“Star Trek” icon Nichelle Nichols has beamed into an out-of-this-world legal battle.
The 87-year-old actress’ son, Kyle Johnson, last week filed a lawsuit against her caretaker and manager, Gilbert Bell, accusing Bell of “financial elder abuse.”
In the Aug. 10 filing, Johnson alleged that Bell “took advantage” of and “exploited his relationship” with Nichols and has “exerted his undue influence and took control over Ms. Nichols’ assets and personal affairs” over the past decade. Johnson further accused Bell of a “breach of his fiduciary duty” to Nichols, as well as an “intent to defraud” her.
Asked to comment on the allegations of the lawsuit, Bell’s attorney sent a statement noting that hearings on behalf of Nichols are “pending in California courts,” and that Bell — “Ms. Nichols’s former entertainment manager, interested friend of Ms. Nichols, and a respected industry talent manager for 30 years” — is “a litigant in these suits.” He also asserted that the court-appointed temporary conservators of the estate “had not found any cause to follow up on accusations of financial wrongdoing” by Bell.
Johnson’s suit comes two years after it was reported that Nichols was diagnosed with dementia. Johnson’s lawsuit claims that she was officially diagnosed in 2013. Nichols suffered a stroke in 2015, requiring constant care.
Nichols is best known for portraying communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in NBC’S 1966-69 “Star Trek” series, six movies and a 1973-74 animated serial. She and co-star William Shatner, who played Capt. James Kirk, engaged in a groundbreaking on-screen kiss one year after the US Supreme Court ruled interracial marriage was legal.
In his suit, Johnson, 69, alleged that Bell, as his mother’s manager, “intentionally misappropriated income earned by Ms. Nichols, by siphoning cash from Ms. Nichols’ appearances at conventions, inappropriately dispersing the money Ms. Nichols earned, and misappropriating funds from Ms. Nichols’ financial accounts.”
The lawsuit claimed that Bell, who lived on Nichols’ property, “wrongfully induced” Nichols into “unconscionable rental agreements” that only charged him $300 monthly rent over eight years.
Johnson’s lawsuit also alleged that, in 2015, Bell “induced” his mother to take out a reverse mortgage on her home for $412,488. In July 2017, the lawsuit claimed, Bell used his power of attorney to sign a quitclaim deed — or a transfer of the property — to himself.
In an interview with The Post, Johnson said the situation “is not something I’d ever imagined.”
“It’s been very difficult to see the influence that he has been able to exert while her circumstances and health make her vulnerable to that,” said Johnson.
He said Bell’s actions over the last decade had “pretty much wiped her out.” In filing the lawsuit, he hoped that “something resembling justice is done” and that Bell be “held accountable for the damage that he’s done.” (Nichols’ family has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for her care and legal costs.)
Bell still lives on Nichols’ Southern California property, but is no longer involved in her care, Johnson said.
Johnson added that, beyond his mother’s dementia, she doesn’t have any “acute conditions” and that her physical health is “fairly stable. She’s getting older; she’s got a little arthritis here and a couple aches and pains there,” noting that Nichols will turn 88 on Dec. 28.
“Ultimately it’s most important that we can ensure her care and comfort and enjoyment of the rest of her life,” he said, adding with a laugh, “She’ll outlive us all.”
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