The Politics of Pop

Pepsi pays Jeff Koons big bucks to lobby for its causes. And the West Palm Beach city commissioner is worth every cent.

Still based in Florida, Jeff Koons was put in charge of some of Pepsi's biggest accounts in the supermarket industry. By the early '80s, the Koons family included three daughters -- Caroline, Kathleen, and Maura -- and Koons was lobbying top government officials for changes in state and federal recycling and bottling laws. Koons was almost always on the road, lobbying in Tallahassee and Washington and spending vacations in places like Aspen, where he hobnobbed with business and political bigwigs.

His ex-wife claims that family life was an unending series of charity balls and political fundraisers. For four summers in the early '80s, the Koonses vacationed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they stayed in the company-owned condominium. Every morning Koons played golf with people like U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.

But Koons was also having problems with alcohol and debt, according to court documents. Koons says that in 1987 he spent a year in group therapy to solve his alcohol problem, which is now under control. But throughout the '80s, the Koonses spent well beyond their means, despite an average income of close to $500,000 a year.

To help out his son, Bud Koons gave the family gifts of company stock, loans, and checks for thousands of dollars. In 1992, according to court records, he forced his then-45-year-old son to seek therapy. "They owed everybody in town," his father said in deposition. "They owed every bill in town."

Mary Louise Koons says that the entire family was in therapy at that point, which made it difficult to live up to the kind of family image Bud Koons demanded. While she and her daughters agreed to discuss the family's problems honestly, she claims that Bud and Jeff Koons never did face up to what was going on. So in October 1996, tired of the lifestyle and the lying, she filed for divorce.

Koons himself will only admit to "irreconcilable differences."
But Mary Louise says, "The bottom line, I suppose, is that we all know that we were a family in need of therapy, to which the girls and I were straightforward about for many years."

A few days after she filed for divorce, Pepsi-Cola told Koons that his salary would be cut in half. Eight months later, on June 2, 1997 -- Koons' 49th birthday -- he was told that his father had eliminated his job at Pepsi. Koons was just nine days away from sitting down for a deposition interview for his divorce trial.

"He will not be back," Bud Koons said during the trial. He then turned to the court reporter and added: "Put that in capital letters."

He also testified that he was tired of supporting his son, who was utterly incompetent and not worth the high salary he earned as a Pepsi executive.

Mary Louise Koons believes that the father-son split is a sham, a way to hide Jeff Koons' assets. She's appealing the divorce settlement -- which supplies her with $60,000 a year, plus child support -- saying it isn't enough to cover the medical bills she has to pay as a result of suffering from lupus, a disease that weakens the immune system, causing rashes, fatigue, and pain in the joints.

"Suddenly, in my divorce, Jeff Koons no longer has a job with Pepsi-Cola," Mary Louise Koons, age 47, says. "I find that hard to believe, because all the concessions in West Palm Beach these days are nothing but Pepsi-Cola."

The city commissioner claims that nobody's faking anything and that he still pays his ex-wife's health-care bills, including one for $500 two weeks ago. But although Koons and his father claim they haven't spoken to each other since December 1996, Koons' father chipped in $500 to his son's reelection campaign this past March. Arvidson, the Pepsi bottler's president, donated another $100.

Throughout the campaign Koons also told reporters that he was still a Pepsi executive. His opponent in the close race was Vivian Brooks, age 40, who ran on a pro-neighborhood platform and claimed that Koons spreads himself too thin, creating conflicts of interest as a result.

Koons told New Times that he works for Pepsi "5 percent of the time" and the city "95 percent." When pressed on the issue of whether or not he's still employed by Pepsi, he said he was on an "extended leave of absence."

Which means...?
"Well," he says, "I'm available if they need me for something."

Whether or not Koons is on Pepsi's payroll, he still makes money off the company. Koons said in testimony that he and his three siblings will eventually inherit almost every share of the multimillion-dollar CIC. And until then court documents show that Koons receives a check for roughly $24,000 each quarter, from dividends paid through more than 5000 shares of stock held in a trust fund.

Depending on which attorney you ask, the trust fund is valued at either $2.5 million or $11.2 million. Koons' attorney claims the trust is simply part of his estate, meaning that it cannot be touched by Jeff Koons' heirs until he dies. But Mary Louise Koons' attorney claims that Jeff Koons has already tapped into the trust to pay off his debts.

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