For those coming late to the party: Washington insider/anti-Communist crusader Otto Reich has been pursuing a lawsuit against a group of young men from Venezuela who are associated (exactly how associated is a matter of debate) with Derwick Associates. Derwick is a middleman company that got some sweetheart deals in the Venezuelan electricity industry around 2010 (just how sweet is a matter of debate). Reich claims that these guys messed with his reputation and income, and he sued them not just for defamation but also for racketeering, fraud, foreign corrupt practices and conspiracy. The court tossed the racketeering and conspiracy charges, while the rest of the case has moved ahead.
The issue currently at hand is whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over two of the defendants, Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez andPedro Jose Trebbau Lopez. Both sides are presenting heaps of evidence to show that these guys were or weren’t connected in legally binding ways to New York. The defendants are trying to show that they have so little connection to New York that a New York court has no right to judge them. The other side, meanwhile, has to share all sorts of facts about these guys in order to show that indeed they are connected to New York. As a result, the court gets to see what the Derwick guys do in New York.
For the past four-plus months, most of the substantive filings were under seal. This was annoying. It was annoying enough that when Reich moved to unseal some documents, I wrote a letter to support that measure. It went into the record March 24. It was probably just a coincidence, but less than three hours later, the judge ordered the sides to convene March 26 to talk about unsealing the docket, and on that date the judge ordered the parties to prepare redacted versions of their filings so that they could appear in the public record rather than being kept under seal.
The redacted documents were released Friday. They lack much of the financial info that some people would like to see. Instead, most of what’s in there is a pretty detailed level of stuff that only a real geek would care about, like:
“In February 2012, Betancourt hosted 20 members of his family and friends at Catch in New York City to celebrate his 32nd birthday party. (BET6-8, Exhibit 50 to Smith Decl.) Most of Betancourt’s family attended his birthday party, including Betancourt’s wife, mother, two brothers and cousin… Also in attendance at the birthday party was Betancourt’s business partner and cousin, Pedro Trebbau, and Joaquin Mavares, who, at that time, was the Vice President of International Business Development of Pro Energy Services LLC (‘”ProEnergy”), which is licensed to do business in New York and is the company believed to do alI the actual construction and operation of Derwick Associates‘ facilities.”
These documents give documentary evidence of, for example, Betancourt’s ownership of a penthouse at Olympic Tower in New York. According to one document Reich cites, Betancourt hired an architect to work on “my residence” at that address. They cite evidence of purchases of a “disc” artwork by Anish Kapoor from Sotheby’s. These are factoids that were first presented to the public in blogs and tweets and that were largely present in the original complaint.
Most of all, the new documents make me curious as to why any of this ever had to be submitted under seal. I have no experience with this corner of law so I’m not going to handicap the case, but no matter which way things go, it increases public confidence in the system if the legal process is transparent. And this is the first time we get to hear Trebbau’s and Betancourt’s arguments as to why they shouldn’t be considered New York residents. I have no idea whether their arguments hold legal water, but they certainly make their case. Basically, they say they barely spend any time in New York and that Betancourt’s fancy penthouse was always supposed to be a vacation home.
If you’re keen on the whole Derwick case, give these documents a look, and please let me know what you think. Here again are the documents. The new ones are those from 2015-04-03, that is, documents 140 to 158.
I guess the big irony here is that the Derwick guys end up having to share personal info when all this started because they were trying to keep reporters from writing about them. They could have just gone about their lives but instead they had to make life difficult for those of us in the media, and now, well, now we all get to learn who was at whose birthday party. Strange world.