WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – The head of the Marvel comic-book empire claims in court that a lawsuit accusing him of sending vicious hate mail is nothing more than an attempt to extort him out of millions of dollars.
In the latest motion in a multi-year Palm Beach County court battle, Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter claims his neighbor Harold Peerenboom participated in an elaborate scheme to falsely hold him and his wife responsible for a hate mail campaign against Peerenboom.
Sent out to Peerenboom’s business colleagues, members of his Sloan’s Curve community and other recipients, the hate mail contained unsubstantiated allegations about Peerenboom including claims that he sexually assaulted a child and was involved in a double-murder.
More hate mail was addressed directly to Peerenboom.
“We heard around the neighborhood that you had died in a car accident,” one message allegedly stated, referencing Peerenboom’s then-recent car crash. “I was looking into buying my ticket to Canada so I could spit, dance, urinate … on your grave.”
“No one will be happy until you leave our neighborhood — until you leave Sloan’s Curve — get out now,” the message allegedly said.
The letters began appearing around the time of a dispute between the two men over who should run the tennis center in Sloan’s Curve. Peerenboom challenged the Palm Beach community’s retaining of a tennis center manager supported by Perlmutter, and Perlmutter retaliated by sending out the hate mail, Peerenboom alleges.
Peerenboom initiated the litigation when he sued Perlmutter, his wife and others in Palm Beach County court in 2013, seeking damages for defamation in connection with the hate mail. Other parties have since been dropped from the lawsuit, leaving the Perlmutters as the only defendants.
A criminal investigation by the Town of Palm Beach coincided with the civil case, and according to the Marvel CEO’s new filing, a recently released police report vindicates him.
The police report says that a suspicious package from a Toronto UPS store was confiscated in transit by customs officials in Detroit. The package contained latex gloves, a manila envelope, and sealed letters containing threats against Peerenboom.
The report states that investigators came to the conclusion that the sender was a man who once worked for Peerenboom’s Canada-based executive placement firm known as Mandrake.
After working with Homeland Security officials, the Palm Beach Police Department saw its investigation stall, as prosecutors in Florida determined they did not have enough evidence to pursue charges against the alleged sender.
The police report suggests the suspect may have sent out hostile letters about Peerenboom after being fired from Peerenboom’s company.
But Perlmutter claims that Peerenboom “was likely complicit — or at least indifferent” to the hate mail because he was determined to blame it on Perlmutter and extract money from the Marvel CEO.
“Peerenboom and [the former Mandrake partner’s] interests in framing the Perlmutters for the hate-mail campaign were perfectly aligned. [The former Mandrake partner] gathered information about the Perlmutters that were a matter of public record and dropped prominent breadcrumbs in the hate-mail letters that would point to the Perlmutters as the culprits. Peerenboom in turn gobbled them up,” the Perlmutter filing alleges.
Peerenboom has claimed that the letters contain trademark Hebrew slang that link them to Perlmutter, who is Israeli. But according to Perlmutter, the Hebrew and Yiddish expressions in the letters “were lifted directly from a website, even copying the same spelling and usage errors that no native speaker would make.”
“Putting aside the fact that it would not make sense for the Perlmutters to transparently identify themselves in a supposedly anonymous hate-mail campaign, [the alleged sender’s] efforts were so clumsy they could only possibly fool someone — like Peerenboom — who either wanted to be fooled or was in on the act,” the filing says.
The filing requests that the court allow Perlmutter’s attorneys to re-depose Peerenboom’s private investigator, Steven Reesor, a reputed former Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Department.
According to Perlmutter, Reesor was advised by Peerenboom’s counsel Marc Kasowitz during a previous deposition not to answer questions about whether he was looking into suspects other than the Marvel CEO. This was four months after police identified the former Mandrake employee as the potential sender.
Given Reesor’s contact with Palm Beach police and ties to the Toronto Police Department, Perlmutter claims another deposition of Reesor is needed in order to confirm whether Peerenboom and Kasowitz concealed from Perlmutter that the Mandrake ex-employee was a suspect.
“To unwind this four-year extortion scheme, it is necessary for the Perlmutters to learn what Peerenboom and Kasowitz knew and when they knew it,” the Perlmutter filing states.
The Toronto Police Department’s criminal investigation into the hate mail is pending, according to the filing.
In an email to Courthouse News, Peerenboom’s public relations representative sent over a previously released statement in response to Perlmutter’s claims of a conspiracy.
“The Perlmutters’ midnight filing contains nothing more than false, unsupported propaganda — except that it actually admits, for the first time, that they were involved in the hate mail campaign against Mr. Peerenboom. Even worse, in an attempt to attract publicity for this abusive filing, which they have sent to the press, the Perlmutters also make utterly false and wild accusations against Marc Kasowitz and his law firm,” the statement reads.
“The pretext for their filing is a recent law enforcement disclosure of a mailed package that was intercepted by U.S. Homeland Security at the Canadian border. They claim it is a ‘break’ in the case, but it is no such thing. The truth is that Mr. Peerenboom had nothing to do with the package,” the statement continues.
“In the face of that overwhelming evidence, and now their own admission, their speculation about another suspect is merely a distraction. Mr. Peerenboom and the Kasowitz law firm will address and seek redress for this frivolous and sanctionable filing, and the articles disseminating it, in the appropriate courts.”
Kasowitz notes that in the filing, Perlmutter concedes that he did send out mail that contained negative content about Peerenboom. The attorney points to a section of the document where Perlmutter reveals that in June 2011, he had his assistant email to his friends various copies of less-than-flattering news articles about various political scandals, family quarrels and past neighborhood tiffs allegedly involving Peerenboom. Those emails were sent roughly a year and a half before the more extreme, hateful letters about Peerenboom started appearing, according to court documents.
Perlmutter’s filing also mentions that Perlmutter “mailed copies of the same materials to friends, neighbors and Sloan’s Curve board members in envelopes with a return address of High Ridge Country Club,” where Perlmutter was a member.
Perlmutter maintains that he did not send or arrange to send any of the more vicious mail that followed. He says his “innocuous mailing” of the news articles about Peerenboom amid their wrangling about the Sloan’s Curve tennis center “gave Peerenboom and/or [the former Mandrake employee] the idea to frame the Perlmutters.”
The Perlmutters have pending counterclaims against Peerenboom for invasion of privacy, conversion, defamation and infliction of emotional distress, among other counts.
Much of their countersuit centers on Peerenboom’s putative collection of the Perlmutters’ DNA during a deposition in a separate lawsuit over the Sloan’s Curve tennis center wrangling. With the help of a technician that he had enlisted from Speckin Forensics, Peerenboom was purportedly able to gather the Perlmutters’ DNA from documents that were passed around during the deposition, and from water bottles that the Perlmutters had handled.
The Perlmutters claim the DNA sampling was in violation of a Florida law that generally requires informed consent of individuals before their genetic material is analyzed, with exceptions for DNA analysis used in certain law enforcement and paternity testing scenarios.
In a 2016 order, the Palm Beach County judge fielding the labyrinthine litigation wrote that the DNA collection scheme was a “fraud” that exploited the court’s subpoena powers to serve ulterior motives.
The results of the DNA comparison between the deposition samples and samples from the hate mail have been hotly contested.
Speckin supposedly released a report indicating that Ms. Perlmutter “cannot be excluded” as a potential DNA match. The Perlmutters have countered that the Speckin report was the result of a flawed, myopic genetic analysis under pressure from Peerenboom, and that other more reliable lab facilities that handled the deposition DNA samples in actuality cleared the Perlmutters.
Both Peerenboom and Perlmutter have retained high-profile counsel, with Peerenboom represented by Marc Kasowitz at Kasowitz Benson and Perlmutter represented by Roy Black at Black Srebnick.