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Bowlen family rift is official: Bill Bowlen files court motion to remove trustees from control

Bill Bowlen, younger brother of Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, filed a lawsuit on Thursday against trustees Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka & attorney Mary Kelly, asking they be removed from their responsibilities.

ENGLEWOOD – There is officially a Bowlen family rift.

Bill Bowlen, younger brother of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen who has surrendered control of the team to his trust, filed a lawsuit in a Colorado District Court on Thursday against trustees Joe Ellis, Rich Slivka and attorney Mary Kelly, asking they be removed from their responsibilities because of “their failure to uphold Pat Bowlen’s wishes and act in the best interest of Pat Bowlen, his family and the Broncos.”

Here’s where the turmoil within the family dynamic comes in: Five months ago, Bill Bowlen, who is 69 and lives in Edmonton, Alberta, came out in favor of his niece Beth Bowlen Wallace taking control of the Broncos after Beth Bowlen Wallace sent out a press release announcing she is ready to take charge of the Broncos.

Beth Bowlen Wallace is one of two daughters from Pat Bowlen’s first marriage to Sally Parker. The trustees, however, have been noticeably grooming Brittany Bowlen for the controlling owner position. Brittany Bowlen is one of five children from Pat Bowlen’s second marriage to Annabel.

When Beth Bowlen Wallace announced her intent to run the Broncos, the trustees fired back a response that said she “is not capable or qualified at this time” to lead the team.

It could be a coincidence, but Bill Bowlen’s lawsuit against the trustees was filed five days after Brittany Bowlen declared at a Global Down Syndrome Foundation charity event Saturday that she does “have ambition to one day become the controlling owner of the Broncos.’’

“Although we are currently reviewing this matter, we are aware that the counsel submitting the complaint on behalf of Bill Bowlen is the same one that has been representing Beth Bowlen Wallace,’’ Dan Reilly, legal counsel for the Pat Bowlen Trust responded in a statement. “The trustees will continue to execute Pat Bowlen’s long-standing succession plan for the Denver Broncos in compliance with all NFL ownership policies.’’

Since the charity event Saturday that Brittany Bowlen co-chaired, the Broncos received negative publicity from a private players Halloween Party in which backup quarterback Chad Kelly was arrested on a first-degree criminal trespass charge. The team released Kelly the next day.

“I am a huge fan of the Broncos, and have been for decades,’’ Bill Bowlen said. “Unfortunately, over the past 15 years, I’ve noticed that the operation of the Broncos has deteriorated, while my brother’s health has worsened.’’

The Broncos did win five AFC West titles in a five-year period from 2011-15 and appeared in two Super Bowls in that period. After Pat Bowlen officially stepped down from day-to-day duties prior to 2014, the Broncos won the Super Bowl with his Trust running the team’s operations in 2015.

However, the team has slid since the 2015 season, posting records of 9-7 in 2016, 5-11 last year and is currently 3-4 with a game Sunday at Kansas City.

“I have real concerns with these trustees, their conduct and how they got to the positions they are in,’’ Bill Bowlen said. “They have little or no accountability to anybody but themselves. They have not complied with the rules of the NFL and I am uncomfortable with the way they have handled my brother’s affairs. I know what his wishes were, and these individuals are definitely not following them.’’

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Super Bowl LII press conference on January 31 that the Broncos and the trustees "are in compliance with our rules. They have been very thoughtful.''

The Broncos and Annabel Bowlen, Pat's wife, announced in July 2014 that Pat Bowlen, who is now 74, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The Broncos were placed in control of the Pat Bowlen Trust, which has Ellis, Slivka and Kelly as trustees.

9NEWS has received a copy of the 67-point complaint Bill Bowlen filed against Ellis, Slivka and Kelly. Below are some of the main points from the complaint.

  • After buying the Broncos from Edgar Kaiser Jr. in March 1984, Patrick Bowlen and his siblings Bill, John and Mary each wound up with approximately 25 percent ownership of the team by 1986. Pat Bowlen eventually bought out all of Bill and Mary's ownership interest. Bill sold his stake in 2002 and has not been involved in the team since.
  • The complaint says that as of now Pat Bowlen owns 76 percent of the team and his brother John has the other 24 percent. The document does not mention the fact that Pat Bowlen -- or the Pat Bowlen Trust -- controls 100 percent of the voting interest.
  • Pat Bowlen created his first irrevocable trust in 1996, according to the complaint. It was amended several times, most notably in 2002.
  • The complaint says Pat Bowlen stated that upon his death, distribution rights would be provided to each of his children when they turn 40 years old. Pat Bowlen believed 40 was the age his children would become financially responsible, according to the complaint. It adds this was also the age Pat Bowlen bought the Broncos.
  • The complaint reaffirms Pat Bowlen wanted one of his seven children to one day become the Broncos' controlling owner when he was no longer able to serve.
  • Rather harshly, the complaint said Pat Bowlen repeatedly expressed to Bill Bowlen that his wife Annabel should not have a role in management or operations of the team.
  • The complaint states Pat Bowlen had no desire to sell the team and that doing so should be done "absolutely as a last resort." Bowlen's wish was to become like the Rooney family with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • The complaint accuses Slivka, Ellis and Kelly of assuming a "dizzying number of different (and conflicting) roles" and implies they are paid for each role.
  • A big part of the complaint deals with when Pat Bowlen was incapacitated with Alzheimer's. Bill Bowlen alleges Pat Bowlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's by doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona in 2006 and he publicly admitted in a Woody Paige column published in May 2009 he had "short-term loss.''
  • Two months before Bowlen's public admission, the 2002 Pat Bowlen Trust was amended and that Ellis, Slivka and Kelly "were somehow appointed trustees between 2009 and 2014."
  • The complaint accuses the trustees of being prejudicial against Amie and Beth, Pat's two oldest daughters from his first marriage.
  • On February 12, 2015, the trustees provided a three-page memorandum to the Bowlen Children listing the criteria and qualifications by which the trustees indicated they would determine which of the Bowlen
  • children would be selected as the next controlling owner.
  • In the spring of 2015, Beth Bowlen Wallace was fired from her position with the Broncos. The complaint says she was wrongly terminated.
  • Point No. 60 may be the reason for the lawsuit. It states Bill Bowlen "and other senior members of the Bowlen family believe that Beth is qualified and capable of assuming operational control of the team.
  • The suit asks the court to remove the trustees from power of the Pat Bowlen Trust. And pay for Bill Bowlen's attorney fees and court costs.

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