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Ex-QVC honcho shopped for love, then sued her matchmaker

The legal spat over Darlene Daggett's love life opens a rare window into the dating habits of the ultra-rich.

Darlene Daggett, left, of Devon, sued California-based matchmaking service Kelleher International, owned by Amber Kelleher-Andrews.
Darlene Daggett, left, of Devon, sued California-based matchmaking service Kelleher International, owned by Amber Kelleher-Andrews.Read moreMCT / AP

The official slogan of QVC, the West Chester-based e-commerce behemoth, is: "Find what you love. Love what you find." But when it comes to matters of the heart, one former company executive has been unable to live up to that mantra.

In a row over romance unrequited, Darlene Daggett — QVC's president for U.S. commerce between 2002 and 2007 — has ended her string of bad courtships by taking her matchmaker to court.

Daggett, 62, says she paid $150,000 to a dating service for high-profile executives to be introduced to wealthy eligible bachelors from around the world. Instead, she claims, Kelleher International set her up with a string of unsuitable suitors — including a disgraced New York Supreme Court judge, a man who passed out from a heart ailment on their first date, and one potential paramour who purportedly told her he was waiting on his terminally ill wife to die before reentering the dating pool.

"Kelleher's 'highly screened' matches for Daggett included men who were married, mentally unstable, physically ill, pathological liars, serial Lotharios, stalkers, convicted felons, and men unwilling or unable to travel and/or the subject of professional sanctions," Center City lawyer M. Kelly Tillery wrote in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia.

The suit itself appears destined to last a shorter time than many of Daggett's ill-fated romantic entanglements. Both parties agreed to settle within hours of Thursday's filing, court records show. Daggett and lawyers for both sides have declined to discuss details of the case, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Still, the legal spat over Daggett's love life opens a rare window into the dating habits of the ultra-rich, while also highlighting an inescapable truth that plagues all lovelorn romantics: Regardless of fame, wealth, and renown, love still proves fleetingly elusive.

"It doesn't always work out," said Kelleher chief executive Amber Kelleher-Andrews in a statement describing her work. "But what is good about each scenario is that you still have a lot of reflection, and you have an opportunity to look at yourself and your potential partner and really discover what's realistic in terms of expectation. … If in the end it doesn't work out with someone, we do our best to end it fairly and reasonably."

The California-based firm, which bills itself as the nation's largest privately owned matchmaking service, is one of several companies that have sprung up in recent years promising a path to romantic fulfillment for tech entrepreneurs, moguls of commerce, and celebrities with enough cash to cover the pricey entrance fees. The company is responsible for thousands of marriages over its 30-year history, several engagements, and a small baby boom among its clients, said Kelleher-Andrews, a former Baywatch and Melrose Place actor.

Charging between $25,000 and $150,000 for its services, the company describes itself in a patois infused with corporate jargon. Its website likens its matchmakers to "personal headhunters, continuously networking and recruiting" for clients, who are considered "members of our firm."

Kelleher-Andrews, whose company was started by her mother Jill Kelleher in 1986, is coy about naming clients. But the firm has been linked in gossip columns and tabloids to celebrities including Terrell Owens, Jennifer Aniston, Paula Abdul, and David Spade, and has hosted $45,000 confabs for business elites on billionaire Richard Branson's private Caribbean island.

Promotions for the weeklong island retreats are filled with lofty philanthropic and corporate affirmations that wouldn't seem out of place at the World Economic Forum's annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland, if that conclave also served as a singles mixer for the TED Talk set.

Daggett, a divorced mother of four who lives in an $8 million Devon estate, turned to Kelleher International in 2014, hoping to find a companion with whom to spend her retirement years, according to her lawsuit.

"Due to her senior level position in a local firm, [she] felt that social dating sites did not provide her with the degree of screening and privacy she was looking for," the lawsuit states.

Daggett joined the matchmaking service at its $150,000 "CEO Level" — a membership that guaranteed her matches from around the globe and the personal attention of Kelleher-Andrews herself. But Daggett's court filings detail a series of brief romantic entanglements with prospective suitors, each proving more unsuitable than the last.

She quickly hit it off with an Australian entrepreneur — a man who swept her off to Panama and Costa Rica in 2015 after two dates in California, the suit claims. They made plans to reconvene in Pennsylvania, but he called her two days later explaining that he "needed to go dark."

"The man also mentioned doing work for Interpol in previous conversations with Daggett, so Daggett thought this was a potentially legitimate, albeit strange occurrence," her lawsuit states.

Fleeting communications followed over the next several weeks — exchanges that the suit describes as having the feel of "clandestine operations taking place in Eastern Europe."

But after 13 months, Daggett learned that the man was actually cavorting around the globe with his ex — a whirlwind tour that began the same day Daggett had flown back from Panama.

Another man — a Belgium-based senior executive of a Fortune 500 company, whom the suit refers to only as "the Serial Lothario" — wined and dined Daggett and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at her home, only to drop their relationship without explanation after a period of months.

Then came Kelleher's brief attempt to match her up with a former judge of the New York Supreme Court, which is a trial court and not the highest-level appellate court, unlike most state Supreme Courts. A simple Google search revealed to Daggett that the man had been censured during his time on the bench for sleeping with an attorney who regularly appeared before him and reshuffling court appointments so he could sneak off to broadcasting school classes to pursue his dream of becoming a TV legal pundit.

By far the worst match Daggett describes in her suit was Kelleher's 2015 attempt to set her up with a purported widower from Charlottesville, Va.

He cried during their first lunch date on a frigid day in February, noting that his wife had been killed on a similarly cold and rainy day. But over dinner together one evening in Philadelphia, Daggett received a voicemail from the man's supposedly dead wife.

Mortified, her date explained that he had been raped as a child and was still dealing with trauma that compelled him to lie uncontrollably and cause pain and shame for others, Daggett's suit claims.

Despite her attempts to cut off all contact, the suitor persisted — emailing Daggett, showing up outside her home, and eventually prompting her to hire an attorney to pursue a stalking complaint.

Several months later, the man was charged and convicted in an unrelated $10.5 million federal bank fraud case and is awaiting sentencing in a county jail in Virginia. His lawyer did not return calls for comment.

Daggett's involvement with this man left her "genuinely frightened for her personal safety and that of her family," the suit says.

Still, things could have been worse. A Florida health-care executive who sued Kelleher in 2012 claimed she was set up with an internet sex toy salesman and a convicted felon before calling off her search for love through a lawsuit in California. Her case was quickly dismissed.

Daggett's Philadelphia lawyer, Tillery, declined to discuss her settlement, saying only that she "dismissed the lawsuit as the parties have amicably resolved the dispute" and that she wishes Kelleher International well.

Kelleher International's lawyer, David C. Macpherson, also demurred, citing the agreement by all parties not to discuss their dispute.

But Jill Kelleher, the matchmaking service's founder, in a 2013 New York Times Style section profile offered one observation that might explain her company's fractured relationship with Daggett.

"A lot of older women, we don't take," she told the Times. "They're fabulous, but it's too hard to match them."