Taking grace out of Graceland

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“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.’

— Sophocles

“The image is one thing, and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image.”

— Elvis Presley

Fans of Elvis Presley may have seen a news story or two recently about Graceland, his longtime home; Riley Keough, his granddaughter; and a company that tried to auction Graceland off claiming that they had secured control over it through a defaulted loan.

Before we get into the bizarreness of that claim, we should, perhaps, first talk about Graceland, and why someone might have been interested in it. Graceland is the second most visited home in America, placing ahead of mansions like The Breakers, in Newport, RI, or the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Only the White House attracts more visitors every year than the home of Elvis Presley.

Elvis bought the home in 1957 for $102,500. He died there in 1977, and the home was placed into a trust. That trust was dissolved and the title passed to his daughter, Lisa Marie, when she turned 25 in 1993. She, in turn, created a new trust — the Elvis Presley Trust — with herself and the National Bank of Commerce serving as co-trustees. The home was then operated as a tourist destination by a company she set up called Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE).

Under Lisa Marie’s direction, EPE purchased an adjacent shopping mall, and then a hotel, which was later torn down to build a resort. The site draws more than 500,000 visitors a year and, according to its website, adds more than $150 million per year to the local Memphis economy. The property is so important to the region that the City of Memphis helped finance $100 million in renovations just five years ago. Keough and her sisters have now inherited a major interest in the property.

All of which is to say that this is the kind of place that might draw the attention of scam artists and ne’er-do-wells. And in an environment where even common, everyday people can be the subject of major scam attempts online, where we are seeing deep-fake photos and audio recordings, and where nearly everyone has someone trying to reach them about their car’s extended warranty, it is not surprising to hear that Graceland may have been the subject of a brazen, and bizarre scam attempt.

Last month, the Memphis area was shocked to hear that the Graceland property was going up for auction. The initial reaction seemed to be one of disbelief – that it couldn’t possibly be the case that such a legendary and profitable property could have run into such financial trouble. Then reality set in. It simply couldn’t be the case that such a legendary and profitable property had run into that kind of trouble. That’s when the court action started.

Keough, a successful actress, filed suit in court claiming that she had no idea who the company was that was seeking to sell the property, nor any idea what debt they were talking about. The company, Naussany Investments and Private Lending, responded by saying that Lisa Marie Presley had taken out a $3.8 million loan, with Graceland as the collateral, and then defaulted on that loan.

Unfortunately for Naussany, both media outlets and Keough’s attorneys started to do some digging. What they found was almost laughable. The business doesn’t actually exist in the state they claim to operate in. The phone number they listed is disconnected. The notary who they claim witnessed Ms. Presley’s signature on the note says that she never met Ms. Presley and never notarized the form in question, and once those facts were released, the company issued a statement that seemed to have been written by a sloth with a typewriter.

In short, it appears that there never was a note, there never was a debt, the entire thing was a fraud, and yet the company nearly held an auction at which it feasibly could have collected millions of dollars on a property it couldn’t sell. If that’s the case, it’s a fraud for the ages.

Property fraud is nothing new. For years, people have caused mayhem by filing false liens, creating fake transfer documents, or even forging deeds.

After all, protecting yourself from fraud is the best way to keep from getting “All Shook Up.”

David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette, a sister newspaper of The Morrow County Sentinel, since 2005.

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