Transferring assets

Two teens are shuttled back and forth across the country as their mother and father (belatedly) fight over who gets to keep them

Last fall formed a new beginning for Krystal Crane, on the sandy edge of the waves sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean.

She and brother Jared had just arrived in time to enroll as sophomores at Malibu High School. They had the blond hair and good looks to fit in with a fabled Southern California lifestyle that was in full bloom.

Krystal's science class was on a field trip to the beach. Jared was back on campus. The mountains of Colorado, where they last made their home, was far to the east. Even more remote was Houston -- and daily life with their hard-charging father.

Jim Crane had his choice eight years ago, and he made it. There was the divorce from their mother. She took the children, a sound custody support arrangement and cleared out of his life. He was already a wealthy man at that point, but continued chasing his dream of a business empire. Fueled by the fire of his relentless energy, Jim Crane's EGL Eagle Global Logistics and various corporate offshoots soared through expansion and acquisition.

Along the way, he married an attractive attorney cultured in the arts. He closed on a home with a fashionable North Boulevard address. And Crane began collecting occasional mentions in the society columns and all the respect and acclaim that a few hundred million dollars in assets could bring him.

That was fine with his ex. Theresa Crane had what she had wanted most -- two attractive children, now teenagers. More importantly, she had the time with them to cultivate a strong sense of family and a future together.

Until that day last September.

Krystal and her classmates saw the law enforcement officers approaching them on the beach. One asked who was Krystal Crane. "Come with us," the officer politely ordered. Within hours, what began as a routine school day dissolved into a dazed Krystal and Jared aboard a private jet screaming back to Houston.

"If you think you and some judges and lawyers (I've never met) can decide what my future is, you are wrong," Krystal advised her father in a letter. "I'd rather live with my mother and have nothing materialistic, than live with you and have 'everything.' This is one problem your money can't solve."

However, they had underestimated his reach. Asked under what authority the children were being taken, the answer was blunt: the courts of Harris County, Texas. Never mind that the mother wasn't advised of -- or represented in -- a hearing. The subsequent order was all that was needed.

The air freight mogul had summoned up a very special cargo, one with same day service from California. It was arriving on time and on schedule. Just the way Jim Crane expects his deliveries to go.

As he told a business magazine in 1998, his personal motto is "Execution is everything."


Last month, an elegant woman approached a reporter as he waited for proceedings to reconvene in the Crane vs. Crane custody case. With husband Jim Crane standing nearby, wife Franci set about savaging the news writer for his presence. How dare you, she demanded. How dare you detail the private lives and problems of these children?

It was a noble gesture that seemed to temporarily flush the tension of the moment from the couple. However, the kids served as almost an aside in this court confrontation. There were no especially dramatic personal secrets or revelations spilling forth about either of the siblings.

In fact, the most unusual aspect of it was the relatively commonplace nature of their lives. Both are immersed in the awkward teen years -- Krystal's almost 16, and Jared will be 18 in December. They've dabbled with the grunge look and started to delve into the dynamics of dating, cars and social conscientiousness.

Jared was diagnosed with attention deficient disorder. He improved with medication, but has learning problems and has lagged more than a year behind others his age. For both, the entry into adolescence was accompanied by a decline in academic scores -- even a few failing grades and increased absenteeism.

However, by almost accounts, these are the kind of kids that ought to make most parents proud. They are bright, friendly, sociable and seemingly adjusted for their ages.

In this case, the grown-ups are the ones who have gone after each with a special vengeance. Bedrock issues -- custody, support and visitation -- were supposed to have been settled with the divorce nine years ago. But litigation to modify the terms of that earlier agreement has dragged on through five years and almost that many judges. Every supposed attempt at healing the conflict has added fresh wounds to the underlying layers of scar tissue.

After an estimated half-million dollars in legal fees for the divorce and aftermath, the latest fray has added at least $100,000 to the bill. All this for a court decision that would be legally binding for the focus of the fight -- Jared -- only until he reaches the independence of adulthood in seven months.

No matter. In Jim Crane's mind, he was ready to reclaim full-time fathership after carving out his airfreight empire. In the eyes of veteran family law attorney Joan Jenkins, the kids' court-appointed guardian, it is "a classic example of 'too much too late' in that effort."

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