You guys know I love my Britney long reads: http://britneysgram.com/2018/11/19/got-crazy-men-control-britney-spears/
At the downtown Los Angeles Courthouse this Wednesday, November 14, 2018, the men in charge of Britney Spears gathered without her to decide that once again, she should give one of them a gargantuan raise.
The man of the hour was Andrew Wallet, a Camarillo-based attorney, who, along with Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, has been the co-conservator of Britney’s estate since she was taken to UCLA Medical by way of an ambulance in January 2008. Wallet runs Britney’s entire financial empire. Unlike Britney, he has the legal power to decide how her fortune will be spent. In becoming her conservator, Wallet became, for official purposes, one in the same with Britney Spears. On this morning in court, the person at the helm of a brand that includes multiple Vegas residencies worth hundreds of millions, a decades-strong international arena tour game, a catalogue of music containing dozens of Billboard top hits, and a perfume line valued at over a billion dollars, arrived wearing an ill-fitting suit, a horrible tie, and a confident smirk.
After a hearing that lasted only twenty minutes, Wallet would emerge from the court room looking satisfied but not surprised, having been granted a raise that brings him a base salary of $426,000 ($35,500 a month.) According to a petition filed by Wallet on October 15, 2018, he believed that he was entitled to a larger-than-typical fee for his role as conservator of Britney’s estate for a number of reasons, including that fact that he was instrumental in turning around a fortune that “at the beginning of the conservatorship…was nearly out of funds and cash equivalents. The estate and (Britney) were in total chaos with tremendous liabilities.”
Anyone who logged onto the internet or stood in a grocery check out line in 2007 has a visceral memory of the chaos Wallet is referring to. Britney’s downward spiral that year remains the most publicized mental breakdown of a celebrity in pop culture history. By all accounts, Britney has been a workhorse all of her life. As a child, she rehearsed singing and dancing obsessively. She’s spent the better part of her life learning choreography, traveling, and performing. She is tied with Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Janet Jackson for most number one albums sold by a female artist. Britney is a productive person.
Britney auditions back up dancers for her upcoming Domination residency, for which the estate will make 507K a show.
Still, the common narrative is that over the course of those dark months after her divorce in 2007, Britney “Went crazy.” Unlike celebrities like Mel Gibson, who beat the shit out of his girlfriend and called a cop ‘Sugar tits,’ or Mike Tyson, who raped a woman and also bit off a human being’s ear, Britney’s crazy would be a train for which she would not be granted a return ticket.
Even ardent fans of Britney Spears sometimes express the sentiment that it’s “probably for the best” that Britney stays under the charge of people who are not herself, given how bad things were when she wasn’t.
But was the Britney’s situation really so severe, so unwarranted as to render her without agency ten years later? Or do we just have more images burned into our collective conscious than we do of any other celebrity’s darkest hour?
After she had two babies in rapid succession, and as she watched her marriage disintegrate, 24 year old Britney Spears was pursued day and night by paparazzi. In the years before Instagram, the paparazzi did our celebrity following for us, and any attempt Britney made — to buy lipstick at CVS, to grab Starbucks, to get a little drunk and go dancing with her friends — meant wading through an aggressive swarm as they pressed against the windows of her car or crowded the sidewalk on all sides of her. It became a given that if Britney left her house, she could expect a hundred people to be waiting, hopeful they’d catch a picture of her without underwear on.
For months and then years, and without taking nights, nor weekends, nor holidays off, strangers pressed into her space and asked her why she was so crazy. By the time Britney shaved her head on February 16, 2007, her mental health and the paparazzi had become a fire that fed itself. If shaving her head was an attempt to get paparazzi off her back, it didn’t work. She went to rehab. That didn’t work either. She met a man named Sam Lufti — a San Fernando Valley native who was a consultant for his mother’s gas station, and who had a palpably unsettling vibe. After a year of having her boundaries constantly violated by the world at large, Britney decided Sam Lufti got her.
A couple of months after meeting him, Britney brought Lufti to a meeting with the label for her upcoming album “Blackout.” When the label wouldn’t talk business in his presence, Britney declared that Lufti was her manager. Lufti would see this as an opportunity to usurp complete control over Britney’s life. He moved into her house. He took over all contact going to or coming from Britney (including with her parents Jamie and Lynn, who were estranged from Britney at the time.) He also acted as third wheel when Britney starting dating his friend, Adnan Ghalib.
Ghalib was one of the paparazzi.
Lufti, it would turn out, was completely allied with the paparazzi. Britney had accidentally let the enemy into the foxhole with her. According to a statement he gave as part of a lawsuit against Britney, Jamie, and her mom Lynne, “Thirty or a hundred paparazzi were always trailing Britney…If they paparazzi followed his rules, he would text them Britney’s itinerary so they could get the photographs they wanted. By January 2008, Britney and Sam trusted the paparazzi and treated them as free bodyguards.”
Britney had effectively been kidnapped and was being held hostage. According to Lynne, in her memoir “Through the Storm,” which was published months after Britney’s hospitalization:
“The level of control he exerted was bewildering. Adnan told me that Sam hid Britney’s cell phones and told her he lost them…He threw away all of Britney’s phone chargers and disabled the house phones by cutting the wires. He also disabled several of Britney’s cars so she couldn’t leave unattended…Sam would hide Britney’s dog, London. She would look all over the house, crying, and then Sam would bring out the dog and act like some sort of savior.”
Lufti, according to Lynne, was also regularly drugging Britney by hiding antipsychotics in her food.
Jamie and Lynne, meanwhile were concurrently dealing with pregnancy of Britney’s 16 year old Nickelodeon star sister Jamie Lynn. Lynne occasionally communicated with Lufti, as she saw him as the only channel to her daughter. Jamie, however, had no contact with either Lufti or Britney, and began speaking to his own business manager about how to put Britney under a conservatorship that would take Britney out of Lufti’s control and into his.
On January 28, 2008, after the paparazzi broadcast a fight between Britney and Lufti outside of Britney’s home, Jamie and Lynne saw this as a chance to get through to their daughter. They headed over to her house, and an altercation occurred in which Jamie allegedly punched Lufti in the gut.
Three days later, Lufti called the cops on Britney and had her 51-50d, on the grounds that she was driving recklessly, not taking her medication as directed, and not sleeping properly. At 4am on Saturday, January 31, 2008, helicopters followed the ambulance that transported Britney to the psych ward of UCLA Medical Center. Lynne and Jamie were not a party to taking Britney into custody. They did, however, see her hospitalization as a way to implement the conservatorship Jamie had already been researching.
That first day, as Britney laid strapped to a hospital bed due to a series of boundary violations perpetrated against her, Britney was stripped of her rights as an adult American citizen. Wallet became conservator of her finances, Jamie of both her finances and her person.
Conservatorships like the one Britney is under are intended for people who have effectively become incapacitated. Elderly people with extreme dementia are sometimes placed under conservatorships, as are people with such acute mental disabilities that they could not possibly be expected to work or live on their own. A person under a conservatorship cannot drive, make their own medical decisions, or vote. Abuse of elderly people who are under conservatorships is rampant. The children of late celebrities like Casey Kasem and Mickey Rooney, for example, have been outspoken about the ways in which their parents lost their fortunes at the hands of nefarious conservators.
Safeguards are theoretically in place to protect the person under control from abuse of power by the conservator — the court appoints a lawyer whose job it is to oversee the work of the decision makers. Normally, however, this lawyer works more closely with the conservator than the person whom they are ostensibly protecting. Britney’s “advocate” is a man named Samual Ingham. He was also at the November 14, 2018 hearing with Wallet. Ingham has previously successfully petitioned the court for an increase in his own check from Britney — $475 an hour versus the maximum $250 an hour that the court usually allows attorneys in his position to charge.
The full control that’s granted to conservators also makes it extremely difficult for conservatees to assert their wellness and desire to revert back to legal autonomy. A catch-22 occurs wherein the supposedly unwell person is too unwell to decide which doctor can verify that they are well. In the case of Britney’s conservatorship, a psychiatrist assesses her every other year to determine whether she is mentally well enough to live independently. That psychiatrist is selected and paid by the people who make their living off of Britney’s alleged dependence.
It is unclear what drove Jamie to select Andrew Wallet to control his daughter’s finances. Britney appears to be the only celebrity conservatee Wallet has ever had charge of. Wallet’s law degree is from the now-defunct Northrop University, which closed down in 1993 over its loss of accreditation. His web page features what appears to be stock images of a bustling corporate office. (In fact, he works out of a home office in an extremely affluent enclave of Camarillo, Calif.) His site advertises that he is Britney Jean Spears’ conservator.
Britney herself did not originally want to appoint Wallet. While she was still in the hospital, she hired attorney Adam Streisand to go up against him. In a hearing on February 4, 2007, Streisand stated that Britney had a “strong desire” for Jamie not to be her conservator. Samuel Ingham, who had, at that time had only a fifteen minute conversation with Britney, told the court that he didn’t believe Britney had the mental wherewithal to hire her own lawyer. The commissioner on the case agreed with him, and Streisand was ejected from the court room. Ingham, again, to this day, remains Britney’s “advocate.”
According to the statement Jamie filed at the hearing that day, the previous day had been Super Bowl Sunday. “On February 3, 2008,” he stated, “I was unable to visit the hospital during the day because I had to work. I’m a cook, and I was catering a large Super Bowl party.”
“Britney first called me at approximately 1:30 pm. She said ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’ I told her I was cooking. She said ‘What are you doing cooking, Daddy? Why are you not here with me?’I told her, ‘Baby, Daddy’s got to work. She asked me, ‘How long are you working?’ I told her a few hours. Then I told her, ‘Daddy’s got to get back to work.’”
(Jamie had, at this point, already been appointed temporary conservator of Britney.)
If the decision to cook at a Super Bowl party while his world-famous daughter was 72-hours deep into a psych ward hold didn’t belie taking responsible care of his daughter, neither did Jamie’s behavior for most of Britney’s childhood.
Jamie entered rehab in 2004, and has been sober ever since, but according to Lynne, he was an angry, mean, and often absent drunk the entire time she was rearing their three kids. In “Through the Storm,” she writes of “Cruel words, flung in the heat of the moment, fueled by alcohol’s evil energy. ‘You’re stupid. You’re selfish.’”
At one point, Lynne became so furious at having been cheated on by Jamie and discovering him drunk yet again, that she hauled the chest full of booze out of his pick up truck, and “I had a shotgun…I started firing before (Jamie’s brother) was as out of the way as he would have liked. And then I blasted that chest to Smithereens. I shot his beer. I shot his wine. And in a very real way, I think I shot the ‘other woman,’ the mistress who had stolen my husband from me.” It would be Britney who helped convince Lynne to leave Jamie around 2002.
Jamie’s record for financial decision-making also makes him an unlikely candidate for chief decision maker for a multi-million dollar estate. Throughout Britney’s childhood, the Spears family teetered in and out of total destitution, thanks to the continued failings of Jamie’s business ventures. A Gym/Spa he opened was shuttered because of mismanagement. In 1994 they defaulted on a real estate investment they made with another couple to the tune of $53,000. In the summer that Britney recorded “…Baby One More Time,” the family was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and Lynne was “Driving (her) Grandma Lexie’s old jalopy, and we barely had enough money to keep the lights on.”
The conservatorship did break Britney free from the grip of Lufti — Jamie filed a restraining order against him promptly upon assuming the temporary conservatorship order. It did not, however, appear to protect her from the unclear boundaries that have plagued her adult life.
Around 2010, Britney gained another hyphenate in her life, in the form of her agent, Jason Trawick, who had known her since 2006, and would become her agent-slash-boyfriend in 2010. Britney and Trawick proceeded to date for three years and were briefly engaged in. 2013. Trawick would negotiate deals for Britney, including her spot as a judge on a season of the X Factor, for which she was paid $15 million dollars. While Britney and Trawick were a couple-slash-agent-and-client, Jamie and Wallet briefly brought on Trawick as yet another co-conservator, thus giving Britney’s boyfriend full legal control over her.
Wallet was only ever named financial conservator to Britney. Unlike Jamie, who is in charge of both Britney’s money and her person, Wallet should only be managing the monetary aspects of the estate. Not only has he admitted to overstepping these bounds, he believes that the expanded role he’s taken over Britney’s life is a reason she should pay him more. In his petition Wallet states, “Throughout the conservatorship, (he) has been intimately involved in matters pertaining to her finances, and continuously involved in matters pertaining to her person.”
While Britney’s workplace and personal life have been tightly regulated by Wallet, he and Jamie have, over the years, sought to increasingly loosen the restrictions placed on how they are permitted to spend Britney’s money. In March of 2013 (six months before her first Vegas residency was announced), the duo petitioned the court for permission to make riskier investments with some of Britney’s estate. It was granted.
One type of involvement Wallet brings up in his statement as evidence of his role in turning around Britney’s fortune, is a policy he enacted starting with Britney’s “Circus” tour, wherein every one of the people employed on the show must sign contracts stating that they are legally liable for damages if they are responsible for bringing substances anywhere near Britney. “(Wallet) was greatly concerned that the many hundreds of vendors, drivers, dancers, hair stylists, performers, etc. could bring financial disaster to the tour by providing illegal substances to (Britney.) The financial stakes were high, and failure was not an option.”
Since the five days Britney spent at UCLA Medical in 2007, she has never again publicly struggled with any kind of substance abuse. Over the past decade, she has been at the center of a wildly successful and lucrative career. It seems difficult to argue that the intensive monitoring of Britney and the people around her isn’t related to her ability to stay clean. It seems more difficult, still, not to credit one person with the lion’s share of Britney’s flourishing career: the person who’s been performing since she was a toddler, the person who does the crunches, and learns the choreography, and leads the show and gets on the planes and answers the stupid interview questions, and sits there in hair and makeup, and does more crunches, and faces the crowds even though they still terrify her because she’s got a residency to promote — the person who actually is Britney Jean Spears.
In Wallet’s own statement, he acknowledges that his current role is something that would more appropriately be handled by a business manager (someone who is hired by a consenting wealthy person to manage their financial affairs versus someone who has been given full legal control of a person’s entire being and assets).
“This conservatorship should be viewed as more of a hybrid business model. If (Wallet) performed the same services, with the same results, in a business setting, his fees would be in the millions of dollars.”
Some may consider whether Britney’s continually solid work ethic and output is proof that she is by no means mentally impaired enough to warrant the loss of legal control over her own decision making. Wallet, for his part, views Britney’s drive as a reason for which she should pay him more money. “(Britney’s) business activities have greatly accelerated due to her increase in well being and her capacity to be more engaged in furthering her career activities.”
“This conservatorship is undoubtedly one of the most complex challenging. It is atypical. This has gone far beyond the norm. It is atypical…The ‘normal’ model for conservator compensation does not fit this conservatorship.” In other words, most people under conservatorships, are not also actively one of the most successful women in the world.
It remains, of course, impossible to know how Britney actually feels about the arrangement under which she lives. One channel of her life that she’s been allowed to control herself appears to be her Instagram account. On her feed, Britney seems happy…usually. She posts couples workout videos with her Disney prince boyfriend. She creates fashion shows alone in her bedroom. She makes comedy skits with her sons. This fascinating account also seems to be a crack in the surface of who Britney Spears really is, and, at times, a Rosetta Stone to decoding the mystery that is what Britney Jean Spears — the person, not the estate, really wants. A couple of months ago, for example, she stunned followers with the below image and the caption “There’s Always a Way Out.” Is Britney looking for a way out? Or has she been convinced, once again, that the people invading her space are to be trusted — free bodyguards, really.