Hit the Road, Daddy

U-HAUL's founder never imagined his own kids would be the corporate raiders of his great American dream

And L.S. Shoen retreated to his Las Vegas home with his fifth wife, Carol, to shoot pool, write marathon letters to his children and live off his "lifetime" employment contract of $300,000 a year.

Two weeks after Doc Sam quit, L.S. wrote Joe a fifteen-page letter.
"Your lust for power and greed blind you," he wrote his third-born son. "You do not realize what you are doing. I will not and cannot rest until you are out of power in this organization. I will not quit until you are out." It's been more than two years since L.S. wrote that letter. The saga of the Shoens has turned nastier and nastier. One half of the family is suing the other in a sea of money-sucking lawsuits; the brothers have resorted to fistfights at stockholders meetings; and L.S.--once one of the richest men in the nation--wonders where his next buck will come from.

The nation's business community and U-Haul's 12,700 employees--including 2,100 in Phoenix--wonder what possibly could happen next in this struggle for control over one of America's best-known companies.

Interviews with several Shoens, with present and former U-Haul employees, plus a reading of psychological reports and hundreds of public documents amplify the obvious: The House of Shoen never was anything more than one father's fantasy.

THE SHOENS GIVE new meaning to the phrase "nuclear family." One calls her family's story "The Young, The Restless and The Rich." Another says it is "our very own pathetic soap opera." What the Shoens have done to each other make the travails of the Carringtons or Colbys seem pale.

The Shoen kids blame it all on power and greed--someone else's, of course. L.S. seeks parallels in the Holy Bible, or cites "SBS"--Spoiled Brat Syndrome. Whatever.

L.S. and six of his children have sued the four sons who now control U-Haul and several others in top management slots at the firm. The L.S. Group--Doc Sam, Mike, Cecilia, Mary Anna, Theresa, and Katrina--have accused the Joe Group of illegally manipulating Amerco's stock so Joe can stay in power.

The Joe Group--Joe, Mark, Paul, Jim, Sophia, and non-Shoens--counter that it had to entrench itself to keep U-Haul from being sold out from under them. The case is a feeding frenzy for the thirty- or-so lawyers who have been involved--most of them working for the Joe Group. The courts so far have sided with Joe.

U-Haul has sued Doc Sam for $750 million, citing allegedly slanderous comments he made last year to a business magazine when he blasted the company's new management. "Like everything else to do with Joe," responds Doc Sam, who now is a partner in a Valley-based medical supply business, "the lawsuit against me is the Big Lie. To steal a line, `Like a mackerel shining in the moonlight, he shines as he stinks.' That's Joe."

Paul Shoen, the fifth son and now president of U-Haul International, has tried to get his brother Doc Sam's license revoked by the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners. The reason? According to the October 1987 allegations, Doc Sam not only has overdosed their father with anti-depression drugs, but that he, too, "may be suffering from a dependency." In June 1988, however, the medical board cleared Doc Sam.

Joe blames the L.S. Group for allegedly feeding the Internal Revenue Service damaging information about a printing firm he and his brother Mark started in the early 1980s. The IRS is seeking back taxes from Form Builders Inc. that so far total almost $500,000. Joe told his dad what he thought of him in a vile torrent secretly taped by L.S. in mid-1987:

"You dirty cocksucker! Fuck yourself! Fuck yourself! You got it straight? Can I help you with it? You fuck yourself! I ain't your kid!"

Joe fired L.S. late last month from his "lifetime" employment contract. In a terse one-page letter, Joe wrote that unless L.S. admits he is mentally ill, he has violated his 1979 contract. "If you are not disabled," Joe wrote his father, "your past failure to act in the best interest of your employer constituted a breach of your employment contract."

The issue isn't made of whole cloth. L.S. had a breakdown in 1978 that required about a month's hospitalization. He freely admits to suffering occasionally from depression. But he says his firing is another ploy by Joe intended to run him into the ground financially and emotionally.

"They say I'm manic-depressive, therefore I do all these screwball things, whatever they are," L.S. tells New Times. "There are three reasons Joe fired me: to cut down my ability to fight the lawsuit against them; to discredit my IRS testimony against him; and to intimidate me before the shareholders meeting." (L.S. made those comments a few days before the March 4 annual meeting in Reno, where he'd face off against the sons who had turned on him.) L.S. won't admit it, but Joe is as dogged a businessman as he ever was. "He's the hardest-working man I know, besides L.S.," says family friend and U-Haul employee Darrell Hamby. "They're both exact repeats where that's concerned, and I respect them both for that."

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