OPRAH FUMES AFTER SHE BAILS MOM OUT OF $174,000 LAWSUIT

Published on: March 28, 2002

Oprah Winfrey is furious after bailing her wild-spending mom out of a whopping $174,598 lawsuit.

Vernita Lee, 66, was slapped with the huge suit by Valentina Boutique after falling behind on her payments for designer handbags, accessories and custom-designed evening wear. The lawsuit was dropped after Oprah stepped in to pay the massive bill.

The former maid -- who already gets a generous living allowance from Oprah -- infuriated her daughter by running up the huge tab. And the talk queen claims the boutique tricked her mom into the huge spending spree by showing her items without price tags, revealed a source.

"It's not the first time Vernita's run up a towering debt. A few years back she was almost $700,000 in debt and Oprah stepped in and bailed her out that time as well.

"Vernita is a spendthrift and has never learned to live within a budget. Oprah's tried to teach her but to no avail."

Angry Oprah feels betrayed by the Brookfield, Wis., boutique after believing she'd reached an agreement with the store to put the brakes on her mother's out-of-control spending, said the source.

"A few years ago Vernita ran up a $152,000 bill with Valentina. Oprah sent a check to the store along with a letter stating that her mother is not allowed to charge anything more from Valentina because Oprah would not cover those bills.

"But Valentina decided to send a salesclerk to Vernita's home with some of their most pricey and beautiful clothes. And none of the clothes had price tags!

"The temptation was too great for Vernita, and that's why she ended up in trouble with Valentina again."

The owner of Valentina, Tony Chirchirillo, vehemently denies ever tricking Vernita. He told The ENQUIRER he never removed price tags but could not rule out that an employee may have.