Wealthy Executive’s Death Prompts Bitter Dispute Over Multimillion-Dollar Rancho Santa Fe Estate - NBC 7 San Diego
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Wealthy Executive’s Death Prompts Bitter Dispute Over Multimillion-Dollar Rancho Santa Fe Estate

“Don’t be as trusting as we were,” a daughter warned. She claims the woman who allegedly pursued her elderly father should not inherit his money.

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    Family Fight Over Wealthy Businessman's Estate

    A wealthy exec's death has prompted a bitter fight between his daughters and his new wife. NBC 7's Mari Peyton investigates. (Published Monday, Oct. 28, 2019)

    The death of a wealthy Rancho Santa Fe businessman has sparked a bitter feud over his sizable estate, which includes a $3.3 million home in a gated community.

    Two of Robert “Bob” Rau’s children claim the retired aerospace executive was duped by a woman who professed to love him but only wanted his money.

    Laura Rau described her father as a “humble, common-sense guy with a fun sense of humor,” and a sharp mind for business.

    Bob Rau rose through the ranks of the aerospace industry and helped save Rohr Industries from financial distress in the 1990s, according to his daughter.

    Bob Rau was credited for leading Chula Vista-based Rohr Industries out of financial distress, according to his daughter.

    Laura Rau said her father’s reward for a lifetime of hard work included a sprawling $3 million home in Rancho Santa Fe and comfortable retirement that revolved around his family.

    Laura Rau also insisted her parents had definite plans for their money when they died.

    But she and her step-brother, Mike Baker, said those plans unraveled when their mother passed in 2017.

    “Our dad was very depressed,” Laura Rau recalled. “He was completely worn out, and extremely vulnerable.”

    According to a lawsuit filed by Laura Rau, her father fell victim to a much younger woman.

    “Francine Coppola was very attractive and very single-minded in her focus,” Laura Rau said.

    Her lawsuit accuses Coppola of elder abuse and exerting “undue influence” on Bob Rau, by persuading him to marry and leave her a large portion of proceeds from the sale of his home when he died.

    An aerial view of Bob Rau's $3 million estate in Rancho Santa Fe.

    "That's when I realized she was not in it for his goodwill,” Laura Rau claimed. “She was only in it for hers.”

    According to her lawsuit, Bob Rau met Coppola at a North County restaurant that "has a reputation as a likely spot to meet a sugar daddy.”

    Laura Rau also alleged that Coppola -- 20 years younger than Bob Rau and previously married and divorced four times -- "pursued [him] by blatantly offering sexual favors.”

    According to the lawsuit, Coppola moved into Rau’s Rancho Santa Fe home, where she replaced his family photos with those of her own children.

    Bob Rau and Francine Coppola-Rau.

    Laura Rau and Mike Baker also claimed Coppola “systematically isolated” Bob Rau from his family to gain control of his estate.

    “And she made sure she had his phone,” Mike Baker said. “He could not do any texting. So she really manipulated his life.”

    Baker said even Rau’s poker buddies were suspicious.

    “They’re all throwing him the red flag, going, ‘Hey, this is not normal. Be aware of this,’” he said.

    Coppola, who now goes by her married name of Rau, would not respond to questions about those allegations. She recently hired an attorney, who issued the following statement on her behalf:

    “The allegations against Mrs. Rau are highly inflammatory, malicious, and entirely false. Any smear campaign leveled at Mrs. Rau is only an attempt to distract from the fact that Mr. Rau knew exactly what he was doing when he disinherited his daughter, Laura Rau. We expect that this frivolous lawsuit will be short-lived.”

    Another one of Bob Rau’s daughters also told NBC 7 that her father “knew what he was doing” when he changed his estate documents to benefit Coppola Rau.

    “I stand behind his right to make his own decisions regarding his life and his assets,” said Stacy Rau Greene. “I believe the accusations in Laura [Rau’s] legal petition are false and grossly unfair.”

    The trustee for Bob Rau’s estate also rebutted Laura Rau’s accusations in a legal response to her lawsuit. To read his rebuttal, click here.

    A probate judge could eventually decide who gets the money from Bob Rau’s estate. But regardless of the outcome, Laura Rau urged children to pay close attention to their aging parents and the relationships they develop late in life, especially after the death of a spouse, an illness, or another traumatic event. 

    “Don’t be as trusting as we were,” she said. “And for all of us baby-boomers, we’re going to be there shortly, so we need to make sure that we don’t do this to our kids.”