Lou Ella Barq claims in a lawsuit that she is in financial straits because her son and his wife have siphoned off more than $1 million she inherited from her husband, the third and final family president of Barq’s root beer.
Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel on July 27 temporarily froze the assets of her son, socially prominent Biloxian Barry Barq, and his wife, Veronika “Kitty” Barq.
The judge has ordered them to provide a full accounting of assets and liabilities by Monday. Meanwhile, Schloegel said, the couple can’t spend more than $5,000 from their bank accounts, real estate or personal property.
Barry and Kitty Barq deny any wrongdoing. They objected to having their assets frozen, saying in response to the lawsuit they need money for groceries, utilities and tithing, which Schoegel apparently took into account with the spending limit.
The Barq name is entwined in Biloxi’s history and culture. Lou Ella Barq’s husband, William Adolph Barq, was the last family president of Barq’s root beer, now owned by The Coca-Cola Co. He died in 2002.
Lou Ella Barq, who is 90 years old, claims her son used a power of attorney she granted him after her husband’s death to gain access to her assets and take almost $1.3 million from her. She wants the couple to repay almost $1.5 million, which includes income from interest lost as the principal was depleted, the lawsuit says.
During her 56-year marriage, her lawsuit says, she relied completely on her husband to handle their finances and that duty passed to her son.
“Lou Ella completely relied on Barry and he abused this confidential personal relationship for his own personal gain,” the lawsuit says. “He prevented others from being able to discuss her financial affairs by always being present at her home when others visited Lou Ella.”
Barry Barq says he has “clean hands” in the management of his mother’s finances and took on the responsibility at her request. The great-grandson of Barq’s founder, Barry Barq was king of the Mardi Gras Krewe of Neptune in 2014 and commodore of the Biloxi Yacht Club in 2013.
Lou Ella Barq and her son are backyard neighbors in a warren of cul-de-sacs near Big Lake, where heavy wooden doors inlaid with beveled glass accent substantial brick homes.
The Barqs have been very much a part of the Biloxi business and social scene since Edward C. Barq Sr. moved here in 1897 and bottled his first Barq’s.
Windy Swetman Sr. and others still laugh when they recall that Edward Jr. and son William used to collect fees from Saenger Theatre patrons who parked in the adjacent Barq’s lot downtown.
Swetman said he never saw Lou Ella Barq without her husband. Both were always immaculately dressed. “A perfect couple,” he said.
William Barq was a member and major supporter of the Biloxi Jaycees, often donating beverages for the group’s events.
Barry Barq was their only child. He persuaded his mother to move to his neighborhood before 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which later destroyed the Back Bay house where she had lived with her husband.
The lawsuit says Lou Ella Barq thought her son had invested $151,222 that her insurance company paid for her Katrina losses, but he and his wife spent it instead.
Lou Ella Barq said she was totally unaware of her financial situation until the Back Bay lot sold and she started asking questions. Barry Barq disputes that claim.
The Back Bay lot sold in 2015, netting almost $450,000 after expenses.
With some of the money, the lawsuit says, Barry Barq paid off the mortgage on his mother’s house in his neighborhood.
Lou Ella Barq now owes $71,000 in taxes from the Back Bay lot sale, but does not have the money to pay, according to the lawsuit. Her current home is in both her name and her son’s, the lawsuit says, so she is unable to take out a home-equity loan for the tax bill.
“Barry refused to provide financial statements to her, or to provide to her other requested financial information,” the lawsuit says. “This lack of cooperation led Lou Ella, in part, to seek the aid of her grandchildren (Barry’s children) to obtain the financial information. Her grandchildren requested the information from Barry, and he either refused to share it with them or was very vague about such information.”
Attorneys for each side are working to schedule the next hearing date.
Barry Barq’s attorney, Nathan Prescott, said the case is in its preliminary stages. He hopes an amicable resolution is reached, he said, but is prepared to defend his client.
“Barry Barq is focused on resolving this family dispute with his mom,” Prescott said. “He’s eager to do that.”