Sarofim II: The Next (De)Generation

It's hard to imagine a nastier, more alcohol-and-kinky-sex-soaked divorce than that of Houston billionaire Fayez Sarofim's split from second wife Linda Sarofim Lowe two years ago. It spun off an equally nasty booze-and-sex-permeated suit by Lowe accusing her own attorneys of bilking her out of millions in legal fees.

But get ready to expand your minds. Fayez's 35-year-old son, Christopher Binyon Sarofim, and daughter-in-law, Valerie Biggs Sarofim, 33, seem determined to show the old folks that anything they could do, the kids can do better. The couple are kicking up dense clouds of dirt in Judge Annette Galik's family law court as they prepare for a possible trial to divvy up millions of dollars and determine who gets permanent custody of their five-year-old daughter, Gillian.

This time the script features a coked-up plot line and high-profile paramour, Courtney Lanier, adopted daughter of former mayor Bob Lanier. It shoves the previous family marital spats deep into the River Oaks shade, despite no media mention thus far.

It's a Sarofim Divorce Hall of Fame cast tentatively set for a February trial. The Barons of Breakup, attorneys Earle Lilly and Bob Piro, represent former Tiffany's salesperson Valerie, a Fort Worth native adopted by Houston plastic surgeon Tom Biggs and Adelaide Fuller Biggs.

Chris Sarofim, a Princeton grad who works in his daddy's investment company, is represented by Donn C. Fullenweider. He's the barrister who guided Chris's mother, Louisa Stude Sarofim, to her $200 million divorce settlement from Fayez.

"It's like déj$agrave; vu," marvels Lilly, who represented Linda against Fayez, a proceeding he tagged at the time as "the Divorce from Hell." Lilly and Piro secured a settlement for Linda that they valued at $60 million in cash and property. She then tagged them with a lawsuit when her own incipient romance with Lilly cratered after the divorce deal was finalized. [See "Courtship, River Oaks Style," by George Flynn, July 16, 1998].

A jury found in Linda's favor two weeks ago and ordered the lawyers to pay back $6.2 million to their former client, although that verdict didn't frighten off the latest lady on the outs from the Sarofim camp. Valerie is sticking with Piro and Lilly.

Chris petitioned for divorce from her in June, after moving out of the couple's River Oaks abode the previous month. According to his side, the marriage had been a loveless coupling for at least three years.

In a recent custody hearing, Fullenweider asked Galik to award Chris custody of daughter Gillian, who was then living with Valerie at their residence. As evidence of an emergency, Fullenweider introduced an affidavit from Sarofim nanny-maid Equentlyn Brown, who accused Valerie of often ignoring her child and disappearing for days on party binges. Brown claimed she and other household employees had raised the lonely little girl in Valerie's prolonged absences.

Then came the bombshells. "Quent," as the Sarofims called the maid, claimed to witness nine instances since January of the home's handyman carrying bags of cocaine he said were intended for Valerie. Brown recalled that in August the man showed her a Ziploc bag and said it contained cocaine that he had picked up for Valerie. "Then [he] told me Valerie must be crazy because she told him to mail the cocaine to her in Jackson Hole." According to Brown, the handyman later told her he Fedexed it to the Sarofims' vacation home in Wyoming.

Lilly calls the Brown affidavit and related testimony "speculation and guesswork," and says, "it is absolutely incorrect as well as inappropriate." He claims the nanny had come to believe Gillian was her own child. "It looks like it's her custody case and not Valerie Sarofim's," scoffs Lilly.

Fullenweider counters that Brown "loves this child." He says, "She's devoted to this family, and she is upset that the child isn't getting enough attention. When Valerie fired her, she knew what was going on in the house and just had to step up."

The handyman took the Fifth Amendment in the hearing, and Galik had him taken into custody briefly. Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier says it would be difficult to make a drug case against the man without actual possession of the drug.

Valerie wasn't the only one tagged with allegations of substance abuse. Chris also admitted in court papers that he and Valerie did cocaine and marijuana together, though not more recently than 1996. Valerie countered that she was the one who had sought help for her substance abuse problems. She maintains her husband "has been in total denial of his alcoholic tendencies" and "if there is any danger to Gillian Sarofim, it is indeed while the child is in the presence of Chris, not Valerie."

Valerie also charged that Chris withdrew $200,000 from their joint checking account in an attempt to keep her from hiring good lawyers.