After Fraud and Conspiring, the Logical Next Step: RICO

By February 2, 2011Briefly Legal

What do you call an operation in which the lead lawyer in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit talks about threatening judges, an environmental activist worries about a cameraman recording plans to subvert justice, a supposed independent court expert submits a report written for him by plaintiffs, documents are forged, ex parte meetings engaged in with government officials, and the skullduggery emerges only because a documentary filmaker let the lawyers dictate his “art?” Well, it’s a racket, sure. Corrupt? Claro.

Since Chevron was the subject of this corrupt scheme under the guise of a lawsuit claiming environmental damage in Ecuador, it’s comes as no surprise that the company has now filed a RICO lawsuit against the lawyers, activists and various hangers-on involved in the shakedown. (UPDATE: Here’s Chevron’s filing in the Southern District of New York.)

Courthouse News Service reports the news, “Chevron Levels RICO Charges Over $113B Trial in Ecuador,” with the suit naming Steven Donziger, the New York trial lawyer who masterminded the scheme, as the lead defendant in the 214-page suit.

Other defendants include the Amazon Defense Front and Stratus Consulting. Alleged co-conspirators who are not named as defendants include Joseph Kohn and his firm Kohn, Swift & Graf; the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady; the firm Motley Rice; the firm Patton Boggs; and spokeswoman Karen Hinton.

Courthouse News Service quotes from Chevron’s complaint:

Over the course of several years, defendants Steven Donziger and his co-defendants and co-conspirators have sought to extort, defraud, and otherwise tortiously injure plaintiff Chevron by means of a plan they conceived and substantially executed in the United States. The enterprise’s ultimate aim is to create enough pressure on Chevron in the United States to extort it into paying to stop the campaign against it.

That strategy has been obvious since early on in the suit, as the plaintiffs’ team lead a media campaign against Chevron. And…

To pressure Chevron in the United States, the RICO defendants have cited this fabricated evidence, [a] supposedly ‘independent’ report and these trumped-up criminal charges in false statements to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice, state and federal regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. media, and Chevron shareholders, among others. They also made false statements to U.S. courts in an attempt to cover up their wrongdoing and to obstruct Chevron’s discovery efforts.

This is only the latest development in a series of major developments, as the plaintiffs’ shakedown collapses under the evidence. Michael Goldhaber, who has been doing a yeoman’s job at American Lawyer covering the litigation’s twists and turns, reported this week:

The plaintiffs suing Chevron in Ecuador have spent the past six months imploring the press to focus on the evidence in the case rather than the fraud alleged against them.

When I at last did so, plaintiffs took issue with some of my conclusions. Though their letter makes some valid points, it does not shake my conclusions that their headline oil number is a fantasy, and their proof of groundwater pollution (as opposed to soil pollution) is weak.

Plaintiffs are simply unable to defend the claim that Texaco dumped 332 million gallons of oil, which, as they have repeated, is 30 times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill (which released 11 million gallons of oil), and even greater than the BP Gulf spill.

See also Goldhaber’s “The Mystery of the Ghostwritten Report.”

Meanwhile, responding to Chevron’s claims that 20 of the 48 Ecuadorians who originally signed the suit had their names forged by lawyers, the Amazon Defense Front holds a press conference Ecuador in which a number of Amazonians come out to formally re-sign the litigation. How many? Thirteen.

In the PR business, this is what’s known as conceding the point. Yes, our critics made a claim that we felt necessary to respond to, only we do so inconclusively. Where are the other seven?

The plaintiffs’ team is flailing around, seeking to regain the PR momentum, if not the legal arguments. Doesn’t seem to be working.

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