Raising the stakes in the battle over Margaret Lesher's $100 million estate, her widower has filed a lawsuit claiming her daughters are subverting their mother's wishes by trying to block his $3 million inheritance. Attorneys for T. C. Thorstenson announced yesterday from Arizo na that they are asking a judge to order the Lesher estate to pay up, including the inheritance, equity in the couple's $1.7 million Scottsdale ranch and a bronze statue of a buffalo -- valued at $195,000 -- commissioned by Lesher for her cowboy husband.
The suit alleges that Lesher's four daughters are violating a no- contest provision in her will and therefore are risking losing their own inheritance.
"They have breached their fiduciary duty to a beneficiary," Thorstenson's civil attorney, Jerry Busby, said in an interview yesterday. "And this has been directed and controlled by the daughters."
Lesher, 65, drowned last May in an Arizona lake under mysterious circumstances while camping with Thorstenson, her husband of six months. Authorities ruled her death an accident.


In the weeks before her death, Lesher, the heiress to the Contra Costa Times newspaper fortune, had tried to get Thorstenson to sign a post-nuptial agreement limiting his claims on her property. In November 1996, she amended her will to give Thorstenson $3 million within 90 days of her death.
But Lesher's trustees have alleged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of her estate that Thorstenson doesn't deserve that money because he concealed his second marriage, which ended in divorce in 1992 amid accusations of domestic violence. And they accused the hard-living buffalo trainer of numerous infidelities during his marriage to Lesher.
In Thorstenson's countersuit, filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court, his attorneys claimed that Lesher's daughters instructed her attorneys not to pay Thorstenson, in direct opposition to their mother's will. Any beneficiary challenging the terms of Lesher's will is entitled to no more than $1.
"I can't help but think the daughters must have been behind this and put their stamp of approval on it," Busby said.
But Lesher's longtime accountant and one of her three trustees denied yesterday that her daughters are responsible for the lawsuit against Thorstenson.
"That's an interesting theory," Stephen Blanding said. "But this isn't being controlled by the girls in any way, shape or form."


Blanding said he wasn't surprised by news of Thorstenson's lawsuit and its anti-contest claims. "I don't know if it's even a problem," he said. "This is just the next step in the battle."
Last Thursday, Blanding and Lesher's attorneys traveled to Arizona where they delivered an ultimatum to Thorstenson's lawyer, Larry Debus, to accept a much smaller payment from the estate or be sued. The meeting ended after just a few minutes with no agreement.
"We deemed it very insulting," Busby said. "I can say it was a low- ball offer."
"We feel he's owed what he's entitled to and nothing more," Blanding responded yesterday, declining to say exactly how much the estate was prepared to pay.
Thorstenson's attorneys are asking an Arizona judge to order the Scottsdale home sold, with half of the proceeds paid to Thorstenson and the other half put in trust.
They are also seeking a $40,000 Corvette listed in Thorstenson's name, a $15,000 boat and $325,000 in personal property and furniture, according to the lawsuit. Busby said Thorstenson will retain legal counsel in California in preparation for what could be a protracted court battle.
Both sides now have about two weeks to respond to the respective complaints.
Blanding said Lesher's attorneys were not ruling out the possibility of an out-of-court settlement but he said any overtures must now come from Thorstenson.
"We have no plans to initiate another offer," he said. "If there's something they'd like to discuss, they should do that."