The gate to Ty Warner's Channel Drive estate, where his ex-partner claims she was kept under 24-hour surveillance and never allowed to leave. | Credit: Courtesy

The longtime partner of Ty Warner is suing the Beanie Baby tycoon for half of his estimated $400 million Montecito estate after their “marriage-like” relationship ended in November amid what she claims were years of abuse.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court, Kathryn Zimmie, 85, alleges she “fled” the five-parcel compound on Channel Drive last year “out of fear for her well-being and safety,” leaving behind all of her clothing and personal possessions.

Now living in Los Angeles, Zimmie says she is entitled to substantial compensation from Warner, 77, as she acted as his “companion, confidante, protector, and helpmate” for the better part of two decades with a longstanding promise from him that she would be financially cared for “fairly and forever.” Zimmie is also demanding the return of dozens of her original paintings ― described as abstract pieces in the style of artist Helen Frankenthaler ― that hang on the walls of Warner’s many hotel properties. 

Through an attorney, Warner said all of the accusations against him were untrue. “This lawsuit is a money grab filled with lies,” said Gregory Scandaglia in an email to the Independent.

While Warner and Zimmie were never officially married, the lawsuit states, they publicly presented themselves as such and both wore wedding rings. In 2002, Zimmie claimed, Warner proposed to her and “wrote his promise of marriage on a note that she kept in her possession,” but which he later allegedly stole and destroyed. They’d also discussed a prenuptial agreement, she said, but none was ever drafted or executed.

In 2012, the lawsuit claims, years of broken promises and controlling behavior culminated in a physical incident in a bathroom at the Four Seasons New York, which Warner owns in addition to the Four Seasons Biltmore, Coral Casino, Montecito Country Club, San Ysidro Ranch, and Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood resort in Mexico, where he has another mansion.

When Zimmie told Warner she was leaving him, he allegedly placed his hands around her neck and told her, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” “Warner squeezed Zimmie’s throat so hard that she realized that her life was in danger if she ever left him,” the suit says. 

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Zimmie claims she was put under constant video surveillance at their Montecito estate ― where Warner had designed and built an art studio for her and a private bedroom for her granddaughter ― and she told a friend to “keep searching for her if she ever turned up missing.”

More recently, Zimmie began using a cane, which Warner reportedly didn’t like. He would allegedly hide it from her, then reprimand her for steadying herself with walls and objects around the home. Warner also berated Zimmie for not finishing her meals, coughing excessively, and spending too much time away from him in separate areas of their estate, shouting “Katie! Katie! Katie!” until she returned to his side, the complaint states.

In addition to the allegations of emotional distress, for which she’s seeking punitive damages, Zimmie also accused Warner of committing financial fraud. She claims he used her identity without her knowledge to create a shell company ― Cleveland Design Consultants, LLC ― to hide some of his assets. She referenced his previous 2014 conviction for tax evasion and alleged that the approximately 50 wire transfers to Cleveland Designs in 2019 and 2020 “constitute a pattern of deceit.”

“In the wake of Ms. Zimmie’s decision to end her relationship with Mr. Warner,” Scandaglia said, “she has filed a sensationalized lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions of dollars of his earnings and assets. Her claims have no legal basis and are entirely without merit. Mr. Warner denies her allegations and will defend against them vigorously in court.”

Warner is currently fighting a separate lawsuit filed by Biltmore employees over their indefinite pandemic furlough, and another by a neighbor of his Montecito Country Club who says the noise from its unpermitted sports complex, which is now seeking after-the-fact approval from the city, is too loud.

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