Spurned Girlfriend Awarded $10 Million

ByABC News

May 13, 2005 — -- For 17 years, Peggy Horvath lived a life she had only dreamed of as a girl. She jetted around the world, dined in the finest restaurants, and hobnobbed with celebrities as the lover, companion and -- she says -- employee of Bill Hubner, a powerful businessman who had built a half billion-dollar fitness empire and owned luxurious homes all over the country.

"He was very powerful and he had a way of looking at you and making you think that nobody was on the Earth but you," Horvath said.

But her lavish lifestyle came to an end as their love turned to bitterness and Hubner "terminated" their personal and business relationship. Their story is a surprising example of what can happen when an ultra-rich couple -- who never marry -- split up and go separate ways.

Horvath said she and Hubner met at a party in Beverly Hills, Calif., in August 1983. She was a 22-year-old, impressionable college senior. He was 49. She said Hubner asked her out to lunch -- in Lake Tahoe -- and took her there aboard his private jet. "I would say he swept me off my feet," she said.

Despite their age difference, the romance blossomed. Horvath found him charming and persuasive, and she soon moved in with him, setting aside her dreams of going to law school.

"He just said, 'You've been to the University of Michigan. Now you're going to Hubner U,' " Horvath told "20/20."

Horvath, a small-town girl from Michigan, was soon enjoying the life of a well-connected jet-setter with Hubner. She socialized with Hollywood stars, became acquainted with the first President Bush and even had a private audience with Pope John Paul II. Horvath was happy, and she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Hubner.

"Bill just had this way of making me feel like I was a princess on a pedestal. It was exciting. It was magic. It was fairy tale-like," she said.

Horvath says she was also fulfilled professionally, managing parts of Hubner's business and running his many homes. But as she reached her mid-20s, she began to worry about her future. Hubner had twice been divorced. He had four grown children, and there was no talk of marriage.

"He would usually say, 'I told you that I will never get married again.' But he said, 'You don't have to worry about that. You just keep doing what you're doing -- as if we were married,' " she said.

Horvath said they shook hands on it. "Bill initiated it. It was very formal. ... I had complete and total faith in him," she added.

Horvath said Hubner even told her he had put aside an incredible amount of money for her.

Barbara Larose, one of the couple's close friends, told "20/20" she heard Hubner refer to the money. "He said Peg has her own safety deposit box. It's in only her name and she has $3 million," Larose said. "He was serious. Dead serious."

Horvath thought he was serious too. She says she stopped worrying about marriage and immersed herself in the life they were building, playing the role of corporate wife, hosting parties and entertaining his business associates. But as time passed, their relationship changed. Horvath said Hubner became distant, more demanding and even emotionally abusive.

Now over 30 and still in love with Hubner, she was willing to accept the relationship on his terms. Nearly 10 years after their whirlwind courtship, she said he was treating her more like an employee than a girlfriend.

"I would say I was his personal assistant, concierge, household property manager, decorator, and I did later become a vice president of Travel and Luggage, which is the travel agency that he owns," she told "20/20."

Horvath said she was supervising every detail of Hubner's life -- right down to meticulous preparation of his meals. For example, breakfast had to be served exactly the way he liked it: white plates, folded dish towels instead of napkins, and carefully measured portions of milk, oatmeal and even ground peanuts -- all outlined in typewritten instructions.

Hubner, then in his 60s, began pushing Horvath away and she suspected there were other women.

In the winter of 2000, Horvath was diagnosed with cervical cancer and she said Hubner's coldness became unbearable. She said he offered her no emotional support, and described him as psychologically abusive -- going into tirades or not speaking to her for days. "I just remember being totally humiliated," she said.

The couple soon separated. He moved her out of his spacious homes and into a small apartment in Birmingham, Mich., where she continued to work as his assistant -- a job she desperately needed.

Then one day, she was hit with another shocker. "There was a fax in my machine from Bill terminating me. I will never forget the terminology that he put in the letter. His exact words: Effective December 31, '01, the compensation will stop."

Horvath was left with no money, no job and no future. She says Hubner had broken his promise to take care of her financially, refusing her the $3 million he swore he'd set aside for her.

She said she was particularly shocked that Hubner told her not to call or contact him. "I thought we had this agreement. I mean, none of it made any sense," she said.

Having nowhere to turn, Horvath, now nearing 40, hired a team of lawyers to take on her powerful boyfriend. In Michigan, there is no palimony law, which governs the splitting of assets for unmarried couples. So, she went after Hubner for breach of contract under Michigan case law on nontraditional and nonmarriage relationships.

Hubner declined "20/20's" repeated requests for an interview for this report, citing ongoing litigation. In a taped deposition for the trial, however, Hubner steadfastly denied having any arrangement to give Horvath any money or to take care of her.

In his deposition, he insisted that Horvath was simply a girlfriend who never worked for him. He said Horvath was never required to entertain guests or perform services on his behalf. "She was there while guests were at the house, and she was my girlfriend and she did what normally would take place," he said.

During the trial, Hubner said he was never emotionally abusive to Horvath, and his family characterized her as a money-hungry younger woman.

But Horvath hit back with a bombshell. She had more than 40,000 pages of documents that outlined her duties in his business, showing that she was far more than just his girlfriend.

After two weeks in court, a jury in April 2004 found Hubner liable for an astounding $10 million, plus the apartment she was living in, and her legal bills. It was one of the largest awards ever in a case like this.

Hubner is appealing the judgment.

But if the jury's decision is upheld, it could send a signal to other wealthy couples whose relationships -- and finances -- aren't defined in legal documents.

"If this case prevails ... it gives us some guidance as to what to expect in the future for people who fall into the trap of believing that someone will take care of them without that little piece of paper," said attorney Lynn Gold-Bikin, an expert on family law.

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