R.J. Corman estate worth an estimated $270 million, court documents say

gkocher1@herald-leader.comDecember 3, 2013 

NICHOLASVILLE — When he died Aug. 23 at age 58, railroad entrepreneur R.J. "Rick" Corman left behind an estate with a total estimated value of more than $270 million, according to an "inventory and appraisement" included in probate documents filed in Jessamine County.

R.J. Corman Railroad Group LLC, the umbrella corporation for many of the company divisions, represents the majority of the estate. Its estimated value is $226.7 million, according to the inventory.

The inventory filed last month lists $22.3 million in a Central Bank certificate of deposit. It also lists 710,522 shares (estimated value: $1.5 million) of Acetylon Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Boston company that is developing drugs and therapies to treat multiple myeloma, the disease that Corman fought for 12 years until it ultimately took his life. Myeloma is a type of blood cancer that attacks the plasma cells in bone marrow and destroys bones.

Acetylon Pharmaceutical's technology was developed at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts, where Corman was treated for his myeloma.

The Corman estate is thought to be one of the largest ever filed in Central Kentucky. His Nicholasville-based companies employed more than 1,150 people in more than 20 states. He oversaw one of only two major companies offering 24-hour emergency derailment cleanup for railways. To the general public, Corman was perhaps best known for the Kentucky Dinner Train, which takes excursions through the rolling countryside north of Bardstown as diners feast on prime rib or barbecued scallops.

In addition to the inventory, Corman's last will and testament, signed on June 28, 2012, is included in the probate records. The will specifies that companies with "R.J. Corman" in their legal or trade names are to pass on to the Richard J. Corman Living Trust, an entity created to see that the companies continue.

"It is my primary intention by this will to provide for the continuation of those companies ... to be operated as a family business for as long as possible," Corman wrote in the 17-page will.

Four cars are listed on the inventory, including a 1986 Rolls Royce valued at $23,000 and a 1969 Pontiac GTO valued at $24,000. The GTO is to go to a daughter, Shawnee Ashlee Corman of Wilmore, while the Rolls goes to the living trust.

A gold Rolex wristwatch with a listed value of $12,000 was bequeathed to a son, Jay Richard Corman of Nicholasville, according to the will.

The other son, Richard Justin Corman of North Carolina, gets a Cessna 172M airplane, according to the will filed in September in Jessamine County. A 1994 Ford Mustang Pace Car valued at $15,000 was to go to daughter April Leigh Corman Colyer of Nicholasville. An unidentified "motor vehicle that I primarily use for my personal transportation at the time of my death" was to go to daughter Amy Elizabeth Corman Page of Nicholasville. The only other car listed in the inventory is a 1981 Chevrolet Corvette valued at $14,000.

The rest of Rick Corman's tangible personal property — including books, jewelry, furniture, art objects, and hobby equipment — is to be divided among his five children.

Rick Corman bequeathed $1.5 million each to Amy Elizabeth Corman Page and Richard Justin Corman, to be paid in consecutive annual installments of $150,000.

In addition, Rick Corman bequeathed $1 million each to Jay Richard Corman, Shawna Ashlee Corman and April Leigh Corman Colyer, "but only if he or she has obtained a medical doctor degree from an accredited medical school prior to reaching the age of 35 years."

"I believe that an education as a medical doctor is a very useful and worthwhile accomplishment for any person," Corman's will says, and so he bequeathed the medical-education reward "to provide a strong incentive ... to achieve that accomplishment."

Tammie Taylor, who was in a longtime relationship with Rick Corman, has some personal property at Corman's principal residence. The will said Taylor has "the nonexclusive right to stay in and occupy said residence" not to exceed one year "from the date of my death." Corman named Taylor as chairman of the executors of his estate.

The will also specifies that Taylor, who was appointed vice chairman of the board of directors after 28 years with Corman Railroad Group, "shall always have the right of priority and first refusal in the scheduling of the usage of the houseboat known as 'The Tammie T,' and the scheduling of that houseboat for use by others shall, for her lifetime, be at her sole pleasure and convenience."

The will directs the executors to retain the railroad group's board of directors "for as long as any of those members may be willing to serve." The will further directs that "as an expression of gratitude to those members of said board who continue to serve following my death, I direct that the compensation of said directors in effect at the time of my death be doubled immediately thereafter." The will and other probate documents do not specify the amount of that compensation.

Corman's estate was unsuccessful in an attempt to keep the will and other probate records secret. David Irvin, the Nicholasville attorney who represents the Corman estate, filed a motion in September to seal the probate record.

Rick Corman expressly directed executors of his estate — "to the extent that it is legally permissible to do so" — to ask the probate court to keep the will under seal. Irvin also argued in a motion that information concerning the financial affairs of businesses owned by Corman "could be used to unfair advantage by competitors of those businesses if it were made available to them."

"The fact is that the railroad service industry is highly competitive, and any of the businesses that compete with the businesses owned by the decedent would love to have access to this information," Irvin wrote, "because, by knowing the value of those businesses and the amount of the revenues they spin off, those competitors could have a much better understanding of the competitive capabilities of the decedent's businesses.

"That would give the competitors of the decedent's businesses a fundamentally unfair advantage, because the decedent's businesses have no way of obtaining the corresponding information of those competitors. Thus, the need to protect and preserve the confidential and proprietary nature of that information certainly outweighs any legitimate public curiosity."

Nevertheless, Jessamine District Court Judge Janet Booth denied the motion to seal on Sept. 4.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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