Celebs Whose Family Stole Money From Them

When someone makes that all-too-rare leap from obscurity to fame, regardless of the field, that change in status is often accompanied by piles and piles of money. Sometimes, these newly minted celebs will put their trust in a professional manager, something that can make said celeb a superstar. However it may not always end well. On one side of the spectrum, there's Brian Epstein, a businessman who helped turn the Beatles into the biggest band of all time. On the other end, there's Colonel Tom Parker, who both managed to both make and destroy the career of Elvis Presley.

For a celebrity, it can be difficult to know who to trust. For this reason, celebs have been known to turn to family members to help manage their money. This can be a wise move; Kim Kardashian and her siblings were catapulted from reality-show oddities to worldwide fame under the tutelage of "momager" Kris Jenner. This, however, is not always the case; sometimes that trust can be misplaced, leading to a painful and awkward situation when a star realizes those trusted family members have been skimming from the till, so to speak. 

Sadly, celebrities being ripped off by their own family members is far from uncommon, and dates back to the earliest days of show business. For a look at famous folks who discovered they were being scammed by the people they trusted most, read on for a look at celebs whose family stole money from them.

Child star Jackie Coogan's parents inspired a new law

Long before Macaulay Culkin ruled the '90s — and heck, even before Shirley Temple ruled the '30s — there was Jackie Coogan. Widely regarded as Hollywood's first child star, Coogan was massively popular in silent movies, appearing in his first at the age of 18 months. Coogan spent his childhood in front of cameras, appearing in such films as "Oliver Twist," "Tom Sawyer," and, most famously, opposite Charlie Chaplin in "The Kid." At the peak of his popularity in the 1920s, Coogan was earning a staggering $22,000 a week (which equates to nearly $400,000 today), in addition to receiving over half of the profits from his movies. 

In 1938, Coogan — then in his early 20s — sued his mother and stepfather (the latter his former business manager), only to discover his parents had squandered the millions he earned. Coogan's plight led California to enact the Child Actors Bill, more commonly known as the Coogan Law, which reversed earlier legislation which held that child actors' earnings went to their parents, in the hopes that what happened to Coogan would never be repeated.

Coogan continued acting, yet never achieved the kind of success he had as a child — although he did land one very iconic role in the 1960s when he was cast as loopy Uncle Fester in "The Addams Family."

Billy Joel's former brother-in-law stole $30 million

As one of the biggest hitmakers of the 1970s and '80s, Billy Joel made a lot of money — which, he alleged in a 1989 lawsuit, had been stolen by his former business manager, Frank Weber. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Frank was family, brother of Joel's first wife, Elizabeth Weber (whom he divorced in 1982), and godfather to Joel and Christie Brinkley's daughter. Joel's suit alleged Frank had given $2.5 million in unauthorized loans to Weber-controlled companies, flushed millions of dollars away on bad investments, and, worst of all, slapped a $15-million mortgage on the copyrights for Joel's songs. "Weber's gross misconduct, fraudulent activities and unlawful diversions, as herein alleged, have taken place during a period in which, as Joel's manager, Frank was paid millions of dollars annually in management commissions," the court papers declared, as reported by UPI.

Joel claimed Frank scammed him out of $30 million, and the singer sought $90 million (the original $30 mil, plus another $60 mil in punitive damages). Frank fired back, reported the Orlando Sentinel, hitting Joel with a $11 million breach of contract suit.

In 1990, Joel won the first round, with the Buffalo News reporting he was awarded $2 million. Ultimately, noted Fox Business, Joel only got back about $8 million of the $30 million he alleged had been stolen. 

Gary Coleman sued his parents for ripping him off

One of the most famous child actors of the late 1970s, Gary Coleman became a huge television star, earning a reported $70,000 per week thanks to sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" — and his now-classic catchphrase, "Whatchu talkin' about, Willis?" After the show was cancelled, Coleman experienced that phenomenon common to child actors when he struggled to find work as he grew older. In 1989, in the midst of those difficult post-"Diff'rent Strokes" years, Coleman's mother sued to place him in a conservatorship that would grant her control of his money — estimated at $6 million — due to her claims that he wasn't capable of taking care of his own finances. Coleman, recalled the New York Daily News, balked at his mom's legal move, stating that it "obviously stems from her frustration at not being able to control my life."

Coleman fired back. Suspecting he was being bilked by his mom and dad, reported the Los Angeles Times, in 1990 he sued his parents and business manager on allegations that they mismanaged his trust fund. After a long, messy and very public legal battle, reported ABC News, Coleman won, and was eventually awarded nearly $1.3 million. In 1999, Coleman filed for personal bankruptcy.

Coleman died in 2010 at the age of 42, suffering a brain hemorrhage he'd sustained in a fall. In his will, Coleman left his parents nothing.

Beyoncé fired her dad when she discovered he'd been stealing from her

Beyoncé launched her career as a member of Destiny's Child, managed by her father, Matthew Knowles, who remained in that role after she embarked on her massively successful solo career. In the midst of Beyoncé's 2011 tour, reported Us Weekly, she fired him. "I've only parted ways with my father on a business level," the singer said. "He is my father for life and I love my dad dearly. I am grateful for everything he has taught me." In an accompanying statement from her father, he insisted the parting was amicable and mutual. 

A few months later, legal documents obtained by TMZ revealed the reason behind Knowles' firing: Beyoncé believed he'd been stealing from her. In fact, Knowles filed court documents claiming that event promoter Live Nation admitted to his daughter that he "had stolen money from Beyoncé on her most recent tour or otherwise taken funds that [he] was not entitled to." That, he added, led Beyoncé to instruct her lawyers to undertake an audit, which confirmed he'd indeed been embezzling from her.

Knowles proclaimed his innocence, alleging Live Nation lied to his daughter to get him out of the picture in order to sink their claws into her lucrative touring business. Knowles demanded depositions from Live Nation execs to determine how they came to discover his alleged pilfering. Knowles' legal proceedings eventually fizzled out; father and daughter appeared to have patched things up since then.

Leighton Meester sued her mother for mishandling her money

Leighton Meester was still starring in "Gossip Girl" when she took her mother to court in 2011. As E! News reported, Meester sued her mom, Constance Meester, claiming she'd been sending her mother $7,500 per month to pay for the medical care of her brother, who was born with brain cancer and developed myriad health issues. However, she accused her mother of instead shelling out that money on cosmetic procedures and hair extensions. Meester also alleged her mother threatened to sue her for $3 million if she didn't bump that monthly allowance up to $10,000. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Meester's mom countersued, claiming that she'd "sacrificed her happiness" in order to focus on furthering her daughter's acting career. She also accused her daughter of physical abuse. "Leighton intentionally assaulted Constance by throwing her to the ground and repeatedly hitting her with a bottle," the countersuit alleged.

"This whole thing's been really tough on Leighton," a source told People (via NBC News). "Her only concern has always been taking care of her brother. Leighton's really close with her brother and her dad — her parents are divorced. Leighton's a sweet girl — she cares about work, friends and family."

Several months later, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Constance Meester dropped her suit. As a result, her daughter won a default judg ment stating that her mother does not serve as her manager, and isn't owed any money.

Aaron Carter claimed his mom stole thousands from him

Aaron Carter, who died in 2022, was at the height of his popularity as a teen idol in December 2003, when he accused his mother, Jane Carter — who was also his manager — of embezzling from him. At the time, reported E! News, he ordered an audit to find out just how much money she'd bilked from him, which allegedly revealed she'd skimmed more than $100,000 of profits from one of his tours. "I worked hard for months — 10, 11 hours a day, not including school and press appearances — and I come home and owe money!" Aaron complained in a statement, also proclaiming, "I feel betrayed by own mother." Aaron, who was 16 at the time, also said he was planning to file legal paperwork to become an emancipated minor.

A month later, The Associated Press reported that Aaron and Jane had resolved their issues, and he wouldn't be pursuing emancipation after all. In fact, he confirmed that his mom (who was in the midst of a contentious divorce from his father, Robert Carter) would be continuing on as his manager. "I'm looking forward to putting my family back together and working together side by side with all my children," Jane told the AP.

Less than two weeks later, reported The Miami Herald (via UPI), Jane was arrested for allegedly attacking her estranged husband's 29-year-old girlfriend, Ginger Elrod. According to Robert, charges wouldn't be filed, but they did seek a restraining order.

LeAnn Rimes sued her dad for cheating her out of millions

LeAnn Rimes was just 11 when she recorded her hit single "Blue" in 1994, sparking a still-successful music career. In 2000, LeAnn — then 17 — sued her father/manager, Wilbur C. Rimes, and former co-manager Lyle Walker. According to MTV News, LeAnn accused them of stealing at least $7 million from her. "This is not the first time somebody has allowed his selfish interests to get in the way of the best interest of the children," Tom Rhodus, LeAnn's attorney, said. 

The lawsuit alleged a shady scheme in which her father and Walker boosted and duplicated management fees through various business ventures — one of which involved Walker's son — and had given themselves interest-free loans through LeAnn Rimes Entertainment Inc., the company set up in 1995 to handle the singer's finances. According to LeAnn's suit, she and her mother hired accountants to comb through the company's finances, discovering that her dad and Walker had received $8 million in royalties. The kicker? LeAnn, the actual recording artist who brought in all of the money, reportedly only earned around $3 million in royalties. 

Wilbur countersued, reported ABC News. He claimed his daughter totaled a Bentley, spent tens of thousands of dollars on hair appointments, and more. LeAnn wound up settling the suit with Walker, and ultimately reconciled with her dad.

Macaulay Culkin watched his parents' divorce tank his fortune

Macaulay Culkin became one of Hollywood's all-time most popular child stars thanks to the success of the "Home Alone" movies. While moviegoers couldn't get enough of Macaulay's on-screen antics, they likely didn't realize the fraught situation unfolding with his family behind the scenes. Prior to Macaulay's childhood success, he grew up practically penniless, and would scrounge for loose change while his father — a struggling actor — rehearsed a play. "Macaulay would crawl under the bleachers at the theater to look for change that had fallen out of people's pockets," Billy Hopkins, the casting director who got Macaulay his first professional acting job, told New York Magazine. "They were like the Beverly Hillbillies."

When Macaulay became a sought-after child actor, his parents — Kit and Patricia Culkin — became his co-managers, paying themselves 15% off the top of their son's earnings. What's more, when his parents split, the money Macaulay earned funded their nasty legal battle. "Basically, I had millions and millions of dollars in the bank and my mother couldn't pay the rent because she was spending all of her money on lawyers," Macaulay said. "We were about to get evicted from our apartment." 

Macaulay has been estranged from his father for decades. Interviewed by the Daily Mail in 2016, Kit bluntly said, "I don't consider him a son anymore."

Corey Feldman learned his parents spent all his money

Corey Feldman was once one of Tinseltown's biggest child actors, appearing in such Hollywood hits as "The Lost Boys," "Goonies," and "Stand By Me." As Feldman told ABC News' "Nightline" in 2011, he booked his first commercial at age 3. "I literally was famous before I knew my own name," he said.

Feldman worked continually throughout his childhood, but received an epiphany at 14 that propelled him to court in order to become an emancipated minor. "I got legally emancipated by going to the [Screen Actors Guild] producers pension, health and welfare plan myself at 14 years old and saying, 'What were my earnings, and what's left?'" Feldman said. According to Feldman, the SAG official told him he'd earned approximately $1 million, "which is really not that much money, but in those days it was." Of those earnings, he discovered, just $40,000 remained. Feldman, reported People, accused his parents of burning through all his hard-earned money.

"And guess what? When I went in for the emancipation trial, my father said, 'Since I spent my time with you on your last film and took it away from my office where I should have been focused, instead I'm going to ask you for that $40,000 back as repayment for the money that I lost in my business,'" Feldman said. By 15, Feldman found himself broke and in debt as his once-hot career sputtered.

Jena Malone's mother 'squandered' her earnings

Jena Malone, known for her roles in the religious satire "Saved!" and "The Hunger Games" franchise, was 14 when she sued to become emancipated from her parents. According to her court filings, obtained by The Associated Press in 2000, Jenna had been pushed to emancipation by her suspicions that her mom, Debbie Malone, had been frittering away the money she made as a child actor. Jenna alleged that Debbie had "squandered″ her earnings due to "excessive spending and mismanagement." Jenna won her case, and became legally emancipated.

As Jenna told People the following year, she recalled that "it came to a certain point that money and family didn't mix." At the time, her mother expressed regret for what had taken place. "I listened to too much advice from people who didn't always have our best interest at heart," Debbie said to People, explaining the weirdness of a dynamic in which a child earns significantly more than a parent. "It is a degrading situation to be in, to have a daughter who makes a quarter of a million dollars when you've never made over $10,000," she explained.

Jenna confirmed her mother's poverty in a subsequent interview. "We were just so poor. We'd hop out of apartments, lose jobs, find a cheaper place, get kicked out, live in cars, and live in hotels," Jenna told the Daily Beast, admitting she actually enjoyed being poor: "It was glorious."

Mischa Barton sued her 'greedy stage mother'

Prior to becoming the breakout star of Fox teen drama "The O.C." Mischa Barton was a successful child actor. Her mother, Nuala Barton, became her manager when she was just 8 and remained in that role. In 2015, when Mischa was 29, she hit her mom with a lawsuit; as ABC News reported, Mischa's suit described Nuala as a "greedy stage mother ... who schemed to defraud her unsuspecting victim" by exploiting her daughter's talent "for her own selfish benefit." Furthermore, Mischa alleged that her mom had been hiding money from her, in one case even outright lying to her about how much she was being paid on a movie "so that she could pocket the difference." 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Mischa also claimed that her mother and father had thrown her out of their home — which Mischa had paid for. "Neither Nuala nor Barton's father, Paul, has had a job independent of Barton in over a decade," the lawsuit stated. "Instead, they sit back expecting their daughter's hard work and dedication to her craft to support their lifestyle. Both comfortably reside in the $7.8 million Beverly Hills home that was purchased with Barton's funds while Barton is not welcome at the property."  

Just under a year later, Mischa apparently experienced a change of heart; Radar reported that she dropped her suit, requesting it be dismissed without prejudice — which allowed the option to refile, just in case.

Dane Cook sent his brother to prison for stealing $12 million

Thanksgivings at the family of comedian Dane Cook must be a hoot, considering his accusations that his brother ripped him off to the tune of $12 million sent said brother to prison. As CNN reported back in 2010, Cook's half-brother, Darryl McCauley, had served as Cook's business manager from the early 1990s until 1998, when the comedian severed ties amid suspicions he was being fleeced. 

When Cook investigated and discovered McCauley, assisted by his wife, had embezzled a staggering $12 million, he went to the cops. McCauley ultimately entered a guilty plea to charges of larceny, embezzlement, and forgery, while his wife, Erika McCauley, pleaded guilty to larceny. "For several years, Mr. McCauley abused his position as a family member to gain Mr. Cook's trust, and stole millions of dollars for his own personal gain," Attorney General Martha Coakley said, per the Boston Globe. McCauley was given six years in prison and 16 years probation, while his wife was sentenced to three years in prison and 13 years probation. McCauley was also ordered to pay Cook the $12 million he'd stolen.

As CNN reported, Cook was blindsided by his brother's behavior. "Woke up one day and a lot of stuff was missing," he said. "There is a good chunk of money that is certainly not accounted for. That's all I can say about it at this point."

Jewel claims her mom stole $100 million from her

Jewel burst onto the music scene during the 1990s with such hits as "Who Will Save Your Soul" and "You Were Meant for Me," ultimately selling more than 30 million albums.

Jewel has been candid about her difficult childhood in Alaska, shuttling between her divorced parents. While she'd come to repair her relationship with her dad, whom she's described as a physically abusive alcoholic, she and her mother, Lenedra Carroll, became estranged. "My mom and I haven't talked since 2010," Jewel told HuffPost Live in 2015. "She was my manager, and yeah — I don't think things were quite what I thought they were. It took me a long time to come and see the truth. It was a pretty heartbreaking realization." 

Jewel shared more details on that "realization" when she sat down for a 2023 interview with the "Verywell Mind Podcast," detailing a very painful discovery that changed everything for her. "I didn't really realize what my mom was until I was 30-something ... I woke up and realized she embezzled all of my money — over $100 million," Jewel asserted. That financial betrayal forced her to take off the blinders she'd been wearing since childhood and confront the difficult reality. "Thirty-four years old, realize I'm $3 million in debt, realize my mom stole it, realize everything I thought my mom was, isn't what she was, right, very difficult psychological thing to come to terms with," she added.