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BARTOW, FL-The Griffin business and real estate family of Polk County, one of the most prominent and wealthiest in Florida, is nearing an end to three years of internal strife that has permanently ruptured family relations and publicly laid bare their closely guarded financials.

Harriet Griffin Harris, 66, of Bartow, 60 miles south of Downtown Orlando, has until Dec. 2 to appeal a state judge’s ruling which divided an estimated $500 million estate five ways. Four sisters each would own assets valued at $75 million. The value of their brother’s assets would be $200 million.

Harris alleges her three sisters conspired with other family members to undervalue the estate of their late grandfather, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., a cattle, citrus and land baron who died in 1990. Harris wants a court to void a settlement made in March of this year after a three-day trial.

But Polk County Circuit Judge Michael Hunter, who has studied the feud since it began in 1991, finds no evidence to support Harris’ allegations. The judge has given her 30 days from his last ruling on Nov. 2 to appeal his final decision to the Second District Court of Appeal in nearby Lakeland, FL.

If Harris doesn’t appeal, the division of the estate stands. The four sisters would share in running BHG Inc., the family’s holding company. Ben Hill Griffin III, the brother, would operate two subsidiary companies, Ben Hill Griffin Inc. and Alico Inc.

But the sisters would have a controlling interest in Alico, a land-holding and management company now involved in single-family and multi-family development. The sisters collectively would also receive a 62,000-acre cattle ranch.

Griffin sold a third company, Orange-co, in 1999 for $70 million. He pays himself an annual salary of $1.2 million, according to court documents filed in the March trial.

In that trial, the sisters accused the brother of stealing $4.4 million from $300 million family trust by inflating his salary as trustee and head of the the family’s companies. Griffin, 59, denied the charges.

The sisters filed similar charges against their brother in 1998. In that settlement, according to court-filed documents, the sisters each won $4 million in cash; an additional $312,500 in cash for dividends they would have received from their companies’ operations; and $5 million each in a 20-year bond that earns 8% annual interest.

Kathleen Harris, Florida’s Secretary of State and daughter of Harriet Griffin Harris, 66, are making the allegations against Sarah Jane Alexander, 64, and Lucy Anne Collier, 60, both of nearby Frostproof, FL; and Francie G. Milligan, 51, of Great Britain.

Kathleen Harris, a Republican, gained national attention during the last Presidential election when she refused to give voting sites additional time to count dimpled ballots in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Saddlebag Lake Resorts Inc. is one of Alico’s real estate subsidiaries developing residential communities in Frostproof, FL.

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