LOS ANGELES (CN) — The brother of Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend sued the National Enquirer and its parent company Monday, alleging the company’s dredging up of dirt on the world’s richest man — and its attempt to cover up the scheme — defamed him and damaged his family.
California-based talent manager Michael Sanchez claims in his 23-page federal complaint that American Media Inc., the National Enquirer’s parent company, defamed him when it accused him of leaking details of his sister’s affair with Bezos, including nude photos.
The National Enquirer exposed the extramarital affair between Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Bezos and Sanchez’s sister — former Los Angeles media personality Lauren Wendy Sanchez — in a 2019 article, which included sexually suggestive text messages between the two.
Sanchez said in his suit filed Friday in the Central District of California that the story about the affair was part of a political payback scheme executed on behalf of an unnamed conservative U.S. politician and a foreign government.
“However, defendants could not use or publish any of this material because, on information and belief, it had been illegally obtained using high-tech spyware that secretly hacked into the billionaire’s iPhone and extracted his most private and confidential information,” the complaint states, referencing a United Nations report that found the Saudi government had hacked Bezos’ phone.
As the media giant threatened to publish a story about the affair, Sanchez claims he attempted to minimize the harm the story would have on his sister and their family.
Sanchez, who owns the Hollywood-based talent agency and production firm Axis Management, had previously engaged in numerous deals with AMI and, in his role as a talent manager, had killed multiple unflattering stories about his sister, according to the complaint.
Sanchez claims he was recruited as a media advisor tasked with drawing a “PR Roadmap” for the couple as the billionaire and Ms. Sanchez coordinated their respective divorces while working to keep their affair out of the media spotlight.
“Until the time his sister’s affair with Mr. Bezos was publicly revealed, Mr. Sanchez was instrumental in guarding its confidentiality,“ the complaint says, adding that Sanchez advised his sister to add 15-foot hedges in front of her Santa Monica, California, home to keep her interactions with Bezos from public view.
In October 2018, as it became apparent to Sanchez that news about the affair would soon be revealed, Sanchez’s sister suggested to him that he leak the story first to her friends Harvey Levin and Charles Latibeaudiere of tabloid outlet TMZ.
“Mr. Sanchez advised his sister not to do so until she and Mr. Bezos had informed their respective spouses and children,” the complaint states.
Bezos wrote about the affair in a blog post, saying he would not acquiesce to a blackmail attempt involving AMI executives threatening to publish nude and intimate photos of him and Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos also said in the post his private investigators uncovered evidence that AMI and its CEO David Pecker had taken action on behalf of the Saudi government, which was enraged by the Post’s aggressive reporting on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Following Bezos’ post, Sanchez said AMI was desperate to conceal its source for the racy photos and sought to use him as a scapegoat.
“On March 31, 2019, Defendants issued a false and defamatory press release stating that not only was Mr. Sanchez the one who had leaked his own sister’s affair to Defendants, but he was also the sole source of all information and materials obtained by Defendants including nude selfies of the billionaire and other pornographic images involving his sister,” the lawsuit states.
Sanchez, who lives in Los Angeles County, said in his complaint that AMI’s statement heavily damaged his reputation and destroyed his relationships in the entertainment realm, and added that he is now also estranged from his family.
In an agreement with federal prosecutors, the media tabloid conglomerate admitted to participating in a “catch-and-kill” conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election and to coordinating with President Donald Trump’s former attorney on hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Dylan Howard, AMI’s vice president and chief content officer is a named defendant in the lawsuit along with Pecker, who is also the company’s chairman.
A spokesperson for AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sanchez seeks compensatory, reputational and special damages including contractual expectation damages.
The lawsuit also requests that a federal judge order AMI to correct the alleged defamatory statements.
In February, Sanchez sued Bezos and his security expert Gavin de Becker in LA County Superior Court claiming the billionaire defamed him by telling reporters he was the source of the leaked racy photos.
In response to that suit, Sanchez said he cooperated with AMI only in an attempt to limit the damage the story about the affair would have on his sister.