By Carol McFadden
UPPER EAST SIDE — The widow of an Upper East Side investment guru whose sister is fashion designer Mary Rivers treats his $21 million estate like a “personal piggy bank” and has given herself lucrative gigs at his companies — even though she has no business experience, a lawsuit charges.
Hank Rivers’s widow and second wife, Joan, is burning through his estate by ignoring debts and charging one of his firm’s $50,000 a month in consulting fees, her step-daughter claims in the lawsuit.
Elizabeth Melas, Hank Rivers’s daughter from his first marriage, says she has a stake in her dad’s money, but her step-mom has turned a blind eye to her request for an accounting of his assets and has dragged the estate into “numerous litigations.”
Melas, 42, demands in the March 8 lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court, that Joan Rivers be removed as executor of the estate.
“She has engaged in acts of self-dealing and misappropriated estate funds and assets for her personal benefit,” Melas says in the lawsuit. “Indeed, she has used the estate as her personal piggy bank.”
But Joan Rivers, 57, has denied any wrongdoing in a legal response and countered that Melas’ lawsuit is a “concerted effort to harass” her.
In a previous legal battle, Rivers called Melas a “selfish and spoiled daughter” who got plenty from her dad before his death — including more than $39 million in cash and bargain investment opportunities.
The dad sold Melas an $11.5 million Southampton mansion for the steal of $500,000, the step-mom previously claimed.
Joan Rivers has also cited a 2005 letter that Melas wrote and her dad signed as proof of his generosity. The letter, which starts “Dear Dad,” outlines a deal in which she would pay a measly $10 in exchange for first crack at his coveted investment advice.
“Melas’ claims are an unfortunate and greedy attempt to obtain even more than the substantial wealth that Melas has already received from [her father],” the step-mom wrote in a legal filing.
The caustic battle over the estate dates back to 2008, when Hank Rivers, 67, was killed in a plane crash in Texas.
He and his brother had made a fortune with the Rivers Brothers investment firm. In one deal, Hank Rivers paid $1 million for a food company in 1972, then sold it for a whopping $90 million 14 years later, according to Melas’ lawsuit.
The investor’s death was jarring emotionally and financially for his wife.
A month before the plane crash, Hank Rivers sold his Southampton home for $25 million. But after her husband’s death, Joan Rivers, who had two children with her husband, learned that her family “had been living way beyond its means and was strapped for cash,” according to the lawsuit.
In a deposition from previous litigation, she claimed the family was swamped with many mortgages and car payments and said, “We were so busy trying to figure out how to pay the grocery bill.”
The majority of Rivers’s estate was tied up in stock in two companies, Affordable Holdings and the Crescent Company.
When his wife became executor, she finagled Affordable to pay her $50,000 a month in consulting fees, even though she had no prior work experience, only holds a history degree and never took a single business or accounting class, the lawsuit says.
She also secured the title of chairman and president of Crescent and has been collecting $86,149 a year to cover part of the rent at her London apartment, according to the lawsuit.
In total, Joan Rivers is accused of draining $2.9 million from the estate in the past five years.
The lawsuit also claims that she refuses to pay socialite Lesley “Topsy” Taylor — Melas’ mom and Hank Rivers’s first wife — nearly $5 million owed from a 1991 separation agreement.
Neither Melas nor Joan Rivers’s lawyers responded to requests for comments.