He was well known as a philanthropist, blessing numerous charities with tens of millions of dollars. What he had not done, however, was pay his federal taxes. On Labor Day 2009, Finn M.W. Caspersen – heir to the Beneficial Corporation fortune -- took his own life after a battle with kidney cancer. Unknown to his family, he was also being pursued by authorities who suspected him of hiding money in offshore bank accounts, and evading taxes and fines of up to $100 million.
Susan Wachter, a family friend and former Beneficial board member said, “He made everything right for so many people, and that is why this is such a tragedy.” Others referred to him as “larger than life,” a gentleman from another period of time.
As authorities intensified the federal crackdown on Americans using offshore accounts, Caspersen may have been caught in that web. The major foreign bank involved is Switzerland’s UBS, which agreed under pressure to disclose the names of thousands of secret accountholders. Those accountholders were offered the opportunity to turn themselves in by September 23, 2009 (now extended to October 15), or face possible criminal prosecution. Also involved was LGT, a bank controlled by the royal family of Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein, like Switzerland, is considered to be a haven for offshore accounts. LGT has also agreed to disclose the names of its wealthy American accountholders. Caspersen is believed to have had an account at LGT, though it is not known whether the IRS learned this information through the crackdown.
Long time friends told reporters that Caspersen’s health and financial situation seemed to weigh heavily on him in recent months, causing him to withdraw from his philanthropic activities. His business associate and friend, Gerald L. Holm, told reporters that Caspersen mentioned he was being audited by the IRS, but added that he had not gone into details.
Who received the donations?
In 2008, Caspersen pledged a $30 million donation to Harvard Law. This was the largest single donation in the school’s history. Previous contributions to Harvard include chairmanship of a record-breaking capital campaign that raised $476 million. Caspersen and his sons were graduates of Harvard Law.
Some of the other recipients of Caspersen’s generosity were: Drew University, the Peddie School in Hightstown, Brown University, and Morristown Memorial Hospital.
Members of the Caspersen family, as well as his attorney, Henry Christensen III, have declined to comment about the investigation. But as questions about the family fortune continue, the feds have placed liens on trusts owned by Caspersen’s four sons, Finn M. W. Caspersen Jr., Erik M. W. Caspersen; Samuel M. W. Caspersen; and Andrew W. W. Caspersen. It is unknown whether or not recent donations will come under fire.
The Caspersen family has been associated with Beneficial for nearly one hundred years. Caspersen himself ran the company for twenty years, then sold it in 1998 to Household International for $8.6 billion. He also started the Knickerbocker, a men-only club on New York’s Upper East Side, and he was prominent in the New Jersey Republican Party.