Too Much Spending, Giving Force Osborne Family To Auction Assets

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 14, 2012 12:00 am  

The Osborne family?s Little Rock home is among the assets scheduled for sale next month. (Photo by Zac Lehr)

Jennings Osborne left a multimillion-dollar legacy of making, spending and giving away money ginned from his Little Rock drug testing business.

Many were surprised to learn his family was in financial straits this year, months after his July 27 death.

Wasn't this the same quiet yet larger-than-life businessman and philanthropist who seemed to have a dollar for every Christmas light set aglow, every heaping plate of barbecue served and every shimmering firework sent skyward in his extravagant displays of generosity?

Public cracks in the family fortune began showing weeks after he died at age 67. Debt was overwhelming his estate, and cash was needed to pay creditors. His wife, Mitzi, was forced to put their famed white-walled home in Little Rock and more on the auction block.

"People are pretty stunned, but at the same time, some people aren't shocked," said his daughter, Allison "Breezy" Osborne-Wingfield. "Our dear friends knew that this had been going on for the past couple years, and it was hard to keep rebuilding what was lost."

Jennings Osborne tried to build a new medical testing business in March 2010 and re-establish a money-making enterprise to support his charitable  yet spend-thrift ways.

That he felt compelled to do this after selling Arkansas Medical Research Testing for $20.3 million in 2004 underscores his ability to plow through money.

"He's not your typical wealthy, successful guy," said Little Rock radio personality David Bazzel, a confidante.

"He had an attitude of ‘I'd rather spend my money and let people and my family enjoy it.' The negative to that is you have the situation that Mitzi and Breezy find themselves in now."

Osborne was no stranger to pushing the financial envelope. His loose handling of money prompted a trip to bankruptcy court in 1995 to gain time to pay outstanding federal taxes.

At the time, Osborne said he was embarrassed that he had to file Chapter 11 in order to work out a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service for the $361,118 owed on 1993 taxes.

It wouldn't be the last time Osborne couldn't come up with cash to pay the IRS in a timely manner. Tax liens of $1 million for tax year 1997 and $1.6 million for 2002 would come and go.

"In retrospect, he always thought he could work himself out of anything," Bazzel said. "He was the type who knew he could generate the money. I don't think he ever saw a time when he couldn't do that."



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