It was an unexpected salvo in an unexpectedly bitter divorce, but the lawsuit between Carole Roth, mother of skincare tycoon Peter Thomas Roth, and her now ex-daughter-in-law, Noreen Donovan Roth, seemingly came out of nowhere. Even better, Carole was a mere 94 years young when she jumped into the legal fray against Noreen, who was in the midst of her own sprawling battle against lawyers and trust instruments that her then estranged husband had established several years earlier. Meanwhile, Peter himself was hitting the town with Brooke Mueller, the ex-wife of Charlie Sheen whose struggles with substance abuse have shadowed her even into last summer.
Let’s get into some background so we can see what a mess this all turned into. When Peter and Noreen walked down the aisle in 1996, they were greeted by none other than Mayor Rudy Giuliani as officiant for the ceremony. Peter’s father was a big deal jewelry guy, and at the time, Peter worked for his dad while plotting the side gig that would make him a multimillionaire. Noreen had supported herself as an interior designer, but after they wed and Peter’s eponymously named skincare line, Peter Thomas Roth Labs, became a fully fledged business, she became a managing director with the company. As a sign of the union of their families, Peter had a diamond from his mother and one that belonged to Noreen made into matching earrings that she wore for the wedding. Everything seemed magical.
By 2000, the business – with product names like “Water Drench Cloud Cream” and “Rose Stem Cell Bio-Repair Precious Cream” – was drawing rave reviews from celebrities, and would eventually become a staple on QVC. Just like their business, their family was thriving. Peter and Noreen would have two sons, and in 2000, they decided to upgrade their living quarters by putting $5.7 million into a five story, 8,042-square-foot neo-federal townhouse on East 73rd Street. Just after the purchase, a reporter from The Observer dropped in to watch as Peter, born and raised in New York, attempted to DIY some renovations to their new mansion, remarking that he “stands out like any other tool-deficient city boy at Home Depot.”
But the renovation was ambitious, and ultimately outfitted the home with some remarkable conversation starters. There was the ballroom chandelier of the St. Moritz Hotel, picked up for a song (at least by rich people standards) at a liquidation sale. The piece had to be cleaned and reinforced in order to hang in the home, and to demonstrate the smaller size of the new room that contained it, the 70 100-watt bulbs were replaced with 7-watt bulbs. They also gobbled up various bits of Hollywood memorabilia, like a leather phone book that Desi Arnaz used to rely on and the sleeveless shift that Sharon Stone made famous in Basic Instinct.
Things seemed to be going very, very well. The Roths were rich, a little bit famous, and even the subject of media interest from time to time. Their sons were growing up and doing very well, and as often happens in wealthy families, around 2012 Peter and Noreen decided to get serious about advanced planning for the boys. They wanted to ensure that their fortune and possessions could be passed on to them with a minimum of fuss (and the lowest possible tax impact), so in came some lawyers to set up trust funds. These are entirely ordinary instruments where people can legally stash money and property for the benefit of another person or organization, and which may bypass estate taxes. Noreen signed over her property, marital and separate, to the trusts, and for several years, life went on.
But by 2015, the relationship was in trouble. Peter and Noreen embarked on a trial separation, and although they continued living in the big house on East 73rd together, in another year they decided that it would be best to go their separate ways. Peter filed for divorce, and in a move that must have stunned Noreen and her lawyers, he claimed in his filing that Noreen had no right to equitable distribution of assets because they no longer owned anything, aside from a 1% stake in Peter Thomas Roth Labs. Everything had been tucked into the trusts, and the trusts were solely controlled by Peter. Noreen had given up everything, and her husband intended to make her leave with nothing.
Noreen would go on to sue Peter and what she described as his “corrupt lawyers” in an attempt to have the trusts dissolved, or at least have Peter removed as the sole trustee. She sought $175,000,000 from the law firm that drew up the trust instruments, in a case that seems to have been settled out of court. The lawsuit seeking to dissolve the trusts also appears to have been settled in mid-2019, three years into the nasty fight at the end of the marriage.
But that wasn’t the only one. When Peter and Noreen broke up, apparently Noreen took possession of those diamond earrings that Peter had made for Noreen to wear at their wedding back in 1996. The same earrings that contained a diamond from his mother, Carole, that turns out to have been worth a cool half million dollars. According to Carole, when the earrings were made, she loaned her diamond to them on the condition that she was the legal owner of the earrings, which Noreen could then borrow as she wanted. That situation worked fine until the marriage broke up, when Noreen allegedly absconded with the rock that Carole had been gifted and turned into a ring back in 1966.
Carole’s lawsuit has finally been concluded, with Noreen returning her diamond to her. In the Post’s coverage of the final hearing of the case, the paper noted that Noreen’s lawyers were mum on the outcome, but Peter let the outlet know that he was happy for his mother. What a wild legal ride for Noreen Donovan. If your marriage in Queens is ending, get the experienced help you need to come out of it in the best shape possible. Call the divorce and child custody attorneys at Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino today at 718-523-1111 for a free, no-obligation consultation.