Long before Jimmy Bennett reached a $380,000 settlement with Asia Argento over sexual abuse claims, he sued his parents for allegedly taking $1.5 million of his earnings as a child star for their own use.
The suit, filed in 2014, has surfaced again as Argento has tried to offer a coherent defense against the allegations that she sexually abused Bennett while he was still a minor. In a statement sent to reporter Yashar Ali, Argento used the lawsuit to try and discredit Bennett as greedy and litigious. Bennett, she wrote, was “undergoing severe economic problems” when he requested the settlement from her and had “undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages."
Far from casting Bennett as a villain, though, the lawsuit paints an all-too-familiar portrait of showbiz parents and a child star who achieved early financial success only to see his income vanish in adulthood.
Jimmy Bennett’s attorney, William C. Kersten, named his mother, Martha Bennett, stepfather Frank Pestarino, and companies they owned as defendants, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Daily Beast. The suit follows Bennett’s successful acting career as a child star through his latter teenage years. Along the way, Bennett says his parents downplayed his acting income as “mere shekels” and “chump change” when he was younger. Nonetheless, his mother promised him “that she would not be one of those stage mothers that takes money from her child.”
When he was 17, Bennett says he first started confronting his parents about money issues. He claimed his mother owned up to taking $200,000 of his earnings and said, “Of course I took it!” but that he still had at least 30 percent of his gross earnings tucked away in a trust fund.
By the time he turned 18, Bennett claimed he got the entirety of what was left of his money: $330,000 from $2 million worth of paychecks earned over the course of 12 years and 50 acting credits.
Bennett alleged that his parents had “misappropriated” $1.5 million of that haul. Much of the money, he claimed, went to fund his parents’ businesses. Martha Bennett and Frank Pestarino opened Rockin’ Crepes in 2008—“Crepes, panini, smoothies & fondue are all found on the menu of this laid-back eatery with many TVs,” according to GrubHub—and Selfiesweets, a since-closed dessert-themed restaurant in a Huntington Beach strip mall, with some of Bennett’s earnings. He said that his parents also used his money to buy their Huntington Beach home—a property currently worth an estimated $1.1 million, according to Zillow.
A full tally of his finances eluded him, however. Bennett’s suit claimed he “never received an accounting of his income throughout the years” from his parents.
The house became a flashpoint in August 2014 after Bennett confronted his parents once again. He claimed they kicked him out of the house, and deprived him of access to a small fortune’s worth of personal property he kept there. Bennett claimed his parents blocked him from accessing over $20,000 worth of guitar gear and recording equipment, an $800 autographed Goodfellas poster, a $5,000 75” TV, and his dog, Bodhi a “Pomeranian Husky dog valued at $1,500” while they were all locked away in the Huntington Beach house.
In addition to the personal property, Bennett alleged that his parents had “manipulated” him into depositing $210,000 of his remaining money into a mutual fund account associated with Night Train, Inc.—a company they controlled—and wouldn’t let him access the money following the August 2014 rift.
Bennett does not appear to have mentioned the suit publicly since it was filed and quietly settled it with his parents on undisclosed terms. It’s a similar approach to the one he said he took with Argento. “I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me,” he said in a recent statement.