Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Koch Employee Says Billionaire|Kidnapped & Interrogated Him

(CN) - Billionaire William Koch imprisoned and interrogated one of his executives at a secluded Aspen ranch, under a sheriff's guard, because the executive suspected Koch's companies of tax evasion, the employee claims in Federal Court.

Kirby Martensen, of Berkeley, Calif., says he was an executive for several companies owned and controlled by William Koch, including Oxbow Carbon & Minerals Inc. (OCM) and Oxbow Carbon & Minerals International (OCM International), until March, when he says he was suddenly fired.

OCM and OCM International are part of the Oxbow Group, an energy development holding company based in West Palm Beach, Fla. Koch founded the Oxbow Group in the 1980s after leaving his family's oil-refining conglomerate, Koch Industries.

Oxbow Carbon is the largest distributor of petroleum coke in the world, with annual shipments of nearly 11 million metric tons to U.S., Asian, European, Latin American and Pacific Rim markets, according to the company's website.

Martensen says OCM International promoted him to senior vice president, Asia, in 2011, and he relocated to the company's Singapore office with promises that his family's expenses and his children's education would be covered.

"Martensen understood that the goal of this assignment was to help legitimize OCM's Bahamian shell company," according to the complaint in the Northern District of California. "This included, but was not limited to, discussions and negotiations concerning the sourcing of pet-coke and sales to Asian customers. Plaintiff was informed that the move to Asia was for tax purposes. More than 75 percent of Oxbow's fuel-grade petroleum coke export profits were derived from its Asian trading business. Plaintiff has information and believes this relocation was part of a plan being implemented to evade paying taxes to the United States on profits in excess of $200,000,000 per year.

"In 2011, William Koch was notified of an anonymous letter alleging that Martensen and another employee Larry Black had been engaging in theft, breaches of fiduciary duty, fraud, and self-dealing against the Oxbow companies. Based on this information William Koch directed a lengthy comprehensive forensic review of thousands of documents, including the written corporate communications files (letters, memoranda, electronic corporate communications, etc) of several employees, including Martensen.

"Based on this surreptitious review of plaintiff's emails and voice communications Koch learned that Martensen and others expressed concern of the legality of what they were doing on behalf of Oxbow and their distrust of upper management. As a result, William Koch promoted and implemented a plan to intimidate and discredit plaintiff for the purpose of chilling his speech and damaging his credibility." (Parentheses in complaint).

Koch is the only defendant named in the lawsuit.

The billionaire allegedly used "false pretenses" to lure Martensen and other executives to Bear Ranch, his property near Aspen, in March.

Martensen says the property was secluded, accessible only through a private road, and had no cellphone reception or other connections with the outside world.

After Martensen flew in from San Francisco, Koch drove him and other employees to Bear Ranch to spend the night, according to the complaint.

Martensen describes the ensuing odyssey in the complaint:


"Martensen and other guests had breakfast at the ranch the next morning followed by a business meeting. Martensen and others were then invited by Mr. Koch to tour his Western town nearby - a collection of approximately 50 buildings designed to appear like an authentic late 19th century western town. This was followed by a helicopter tour of the ranch and a lunch hosted by Mr. Koch in one of the town meeting rooms.

"Following lunch Martensen and others were told by Mr. Koch that they would be interviewed by a compensation specialist as part of a 360 degree peer review. Martensen was then escorted to a small room and interviewed by two agents of Koch. The interview turned into an interrogation that lasted several hours. Martensen was accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud Oxbow and Koch of millions of dollars, accepting bribes from competitors and 'diverting freight to a known competitor.'

"Following the interrogation Martensen was escorted to a SUV and directed to sit in [the] back. It was now approximately 5:00 p.m. Just outside of town the vehicle stopped, windows were rolled down, and Martensen was served with his termination papers and a lawsuit. As the vehicle returned to the ranch, Martensen asked where he was being taken. He was told by the driver that he would be taken to Aspen. Martensen then was driven to the main house on the ranch to collect his belongings.

"When collecting his belongings an agent of William Koch searched his suitcase and toiletries. Martensen then was escorted to a SUV and driven to a nearby cabin on the ranch. The driver then ordered Martensen to get out of the vehicle and escorted him to a cabin. While escorting Martensen the driver told Martensen, 'A sheriff is here to make sure you don't wander off.' Martensen observed a marked police vehicle parked nearby with a man in uniform behind the wheel. The police vehicle was clearly visible from the window of the room in which Martensen was imprisoned.

"After three hours of captivity Martensen was told to collect his things and that he would be taken to an airport. Martensen was directed to get in a SUV with a former co-worker, Charlie Zahn, and two agents of William Koch (driver and escort). Martensen asked to be driven to Aspen because he had a scheduled flight from Aspen to San Francisco the next morning. This request was denied. Martensen was told that he was being taken to Denver. Martensen then was kidnapped and kept captive in the vehicle during the trip to Denver.

"Martensen was driven to a small airport in the Denver area and escorted to a private plane. It was now approximately 2:00 a.m. on March 23, 2012. Martensen and Zahn were ordered to get into the plane. The private jet was manned by a pilot, co-pilot and escort Martensen believed was armed. The plane landed in Oakland, Calif. At approximately 4:00 a.m. On arrival Martensen was told that a car was waiting to take him to a nearby Marriot Courtyard Hotel. Martensen refused the request and asked an airport employee to call a cab. A cab arrived and Martensen left." (Parentheses in complaint).

Martensen says he suffered great anxiety, fear, humiliation and emotional distress.

He seeks compensatory and punitive damages for false imprisonment and civil conspiracy.

Martensen is represented by John Houston Scott in San Francisco.

After this story went to press, Brad Goldstein, Oxbow's director of corporate affairs, called the lawsuit "a desperate attempt" to divert attention form Martensen's wrongdoing.

"It's a desperate act by a desperate man," Goldstein told Courthouse News in a telephone interview. "His claims about being held against his will are ludicrous. He had been to Bear Ranch on numerous occasions, and to Mr. Koch's house in West Palm Beach, and to many other corporate retreats. He could have gotten up and left any time."

Goldstein added: "The fact of the matter is many of Martensen's co-conspirators have already confessed and some have implicated him."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.