Update, August 21: A lawyer for Gilbert Bell issued a statement following Kyle Johnson’s cross complaint against Bell, rejecting the allegations in the court filing and deriding Nichelle Nichols’ family’s decision to take to GoFundMe to raise money for Johnson’s case. The lawyer, William Bowen, also wrote that he plans to introduce evidence and witnesses that will support Bell’s innocence and Bell’s claims against Johnson.
Below is a portion of the statement:
By presenting false statements on GoFundMe, beginning on August 7, 2020, Ms. Nichols’s son has obtained financial support for his defense of the lawsuit. Included in those false claims is the misrepresentation that Mr. Bell stole over a million dollars from her. The truth is that Ms. Nichols has not owned a million dollars in all of the time Mr. Bell has known her.
The family has falsely stated on GoFundMe that Mr. Bell has stolen from Ms. Nichols when previous personal and professional conservators of the estate who reviewed financial records in detail chose not to pursue any adverse action, civil or criminal, despite contemporaneous accusations of wrongdoing by Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell has never stolen anything from Ms. Nichols.
Additionally, Bowen told IndieWire that Bell’s 2019 allegation regarding plumbing issues, explained in detail below, has since been rectified by Johnson.
Earlier, August 19: Now allegedly suffering from dementia, Nichelle Nichols, 87, who played Uhura on the original “Star Trek” in the late 1960s, is embroiled in an ongoing legal battle involving her manager, Gilbert Bell. Alleging Bell took advantage of Nichols over the last decade, Nichols’ family has taken to GoFundMe to help raise money for the icon’s legal battle.
The most recent court action came earlier this month, when Kyle Johnson, Nichols’ son, filed a cross complaint against Bell. The complaint is in response to a 2019 lawsuit filed by Bell against Johnson, where Bell alleges that it is Johnson’s actions that are harming Nichols — while Bell has always had her best interests in mind.
Johnson has denied Bell’s allegations of wrongdoing against him. Bell has not yet responded in court to Johnson’s allegations. IndieWire has reached out to lawyers for Johnson, Bell, and a representative for Nichols.
The latest suit alleges that Bell “exerted his undue influence and took control over Ms. Nichols’ assets and personal affairs” beginning in 2010, around the time that the actress began exhibiting “mental instability and poor judgement.” She was diagnosed in 2013 with dementia and short-term memory loss. After suffering a stroke in 2015, she began requiring round-the-clock care.
Bell was allegedly entrusted with managing Nichols’ personal and business affairs and has lived on her San Fernando Valley property since 2012. He gained more control over her affairs, including being granted power of attorney.
Johnson is alleging Bell committed financial elder abuse, breached his fiduciary duty to Nichols, committed fraud, and unjustly enriched himself, among other charges.
But in the original suit, Bell alleges that “Johnson is trying to have Ms. Nichols and Mr. Bell removed from the adjoining properties so that he may sell it. He wishes to have her placed in an assisted care facility, against her express wishes.” Additionally, Bell alleged that since Johnson has taken a more prominent role in Nichols’ care, her caregiver, personal assistant, and physical therapists have been fired.
Among the specifics are that Bell allegedly forced Nichols to give him a sweetheart deal for the guest house he lives in, charging just $300 a month for the building that could rent for as high as $3,500 monthly. But Bell, who is in his 80s, alleges Nichols wanted him to live rent-free on the property that he helped maintain and it was Bell himself who insisted they draw up a lease once the arrangement became permanent.
Johnson alleged that Bell discharged Nichols from a rehabilitation facility after pancreatitis against medical advice and the wishes of her family. But Bell alleges that it was against Nichols’ wishes to stay at that or any other care facility.
Johnson’s alleged that Bell used this instance “to isolate Ms. Nichols from her family and long-term friends.” In his own suit, Bell argues that Johnson’s recent actions have isolated Nichols.
It was around that time that Bell also allegedly forced Nichols to sign a health care directive, offering him dominion over her “medication, necessities of life, and personal decisions.” Johnson later alleged Bell forced Nichols to give Bell power of attorney over her financial affairs.
But Bell alleged that Nichols has “repeatedly voiced concerns” that she didn’t want Johnson to be responsible for her affairs.
During the time Bell was managing Nichols’ career, Johnson alleges Bell “intentionally misappropriated income earned by Ms. Nichols, by siphoning cash from Ms. Nichols’ appearances at conventions, inappropriately dispersing the money Ms. Nichols earned, and misappropriating funds from Ms. Nichols’ financial accounts.”
He also allegedly used her credit cards and forced her to get a $412,488 reverse mortgage on her property, and eventually used legal maneuvers to sign over Nichol’s property to himself.
Johnson in 2018 petitioned the court to establish a conservatorship over his mother, alleging that Bell had financially abused her. The court appointed a group of third-party, temporary conservators to oversee Nichols’ affairs and suspended Bell’s powers of attorney, according to Johnson’s cross complaint.
Bell alleged that now that Johnson has taken a more active role in Nichols’ care, he has allowed the property to fall into disrepair in an attempt to force the pair off the property. Johnson has allegedly stopped paying for utilities and the sewer is backing up into the bathtub, “causing an unlivable stench.”
Bell in his original suit also alleged that Johnson has threatened to “kill him while holding Ms. Nichols’ walking cane, a threatening and dangerous metal object.”
Nichols is not the first star of film and TV to become embroiled in legal controversy and claims of elder abuse. Mickey Rooney testified before Congress about the elder abuse and financial mismanagement he allegedly suffered. After a 70-year career in Hollywood, Rooney died at 93 in 2014 with an estate valued at only $18,000.