WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Oil and asphalt mogul Harry Sargeant III claims that industrial design plans along with recordings of “private consensual relations” were purloined from his private email account and traded off to a corporate intelligence agent as part of a years-long smear campaign against him spearheaded by his brother.
Reigniting a long-running saga of brother-against-brother litigation, Harry Sargeant III claims that hundreds of pages of business records, personal discussions and “extremely sensitive videos and photographs” were illegally obtained from his email account.
The material was used as currency for information-bartering between his brother Daniel Sargeant and a corporate intelligence chief at the nonparty legal service firm Burford, the lawsuit alleges.
Harry is demanding damages for alleged invasion of privacy on the part of Daniel. The brothers had in years past worked together on managing the Sargeant family’s global oil and asphalt empire, before intra-family disputes began to tear them apart.
Daniel’s attorney Charles Lichtman denied the email conspiracy allegations in a statement provided to Courthouse News.
“The case is frivolous, and we’ll deal with it in due course,” Lichtman said by phone.
The lawsuit claims the Burford investigator, a former corporate attorney, knows Harry well. According to the court documents, the investigator for years worked as an enforcement agent on a $28 million judgment secured against Harry by the king of Jordan’s brother-in-law Mohammad Al-Saleh, who accused Harry of cutting him out of a deal to distribute oil to troops in the Iraq War.
The agent and his firm Focus Intelligence worked for Al-Saleh beginning around 2014 and continued as Al-Saleh’s judgment-enforcement agent after Focus was acquired by a Burford affiliate.
“The judgment enforcement process took over five years as Al-Saleh and Burford waged a blood feud against [Harry],” the complaint states.
Allegedly, the process involved “stalking [Harry’s] associates on social media,” and setting up “surveillance teams at various destinations around the world, including Aspen, London and Geneva.”
Harry claims brother Daniel gave the corporate intelligence agent the treasure trove of Harry’s emails in exchange for inside information that would help the Sargeant family’s asphalt company Latin American Investments in a separate multimillion-dollar legal dispute.
Harry’s underlying email account ran on a server of the family company Sargeant Marine. When he was ousted from the Sargeant empire, Harry had been told that the account was cut off at the root and all information in it had been destroyed, the lawsuit says.
The lifted emails were instead provided to an “untold number of people” inside and outside of the family businesses in 2016, the lawsuit claims. The Burford investigator who received the material exhibited an “obsession with chasing” Harry and had a “prurient interest” in obtaining personal information about him, the pleading says.
Aside from the photographs and videos of Harry’s “intimate” activities, the emails contained “links to prototype operations of a new steam generator system being developed” by one of Harry’s ventures, according to the lawsuit.
Co-defendants in the lawsuit include a Sargeant family attorney, and the Burford investigator, Daniel Hall.
Hall argues in an early June federal filing that the claims of an email-pilfering conspiracy are baseless. The allegations appeared in a previous form in the Latin American Investments court battle, in which both Harry and Daniel claimed a negotiator stiffed them out of payments remitted by the Venezuelan government stemming from an oil export deal.
On May 30, 2018, Hall says, a federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the email conspiracy claims against Hall, finding that they appeared unsubstantiated.
Harry had until June 13 to object to the magistrate judge’s recommendation, Hall says, but rather than doing so, he “abruptly dismissed his claims voluntarily, in what appears to be a procedural gambit to shop for a more favorable forum.”
The Palm Beach court case over the purported email snatching was filed June 21.
Hall argues that a large portion of Harry’s claims are barred under a global settlement signed by Harry and Mohammad Al-Saleh in 2016, which was supposed to end Harry’s alleged evasion of his massive judgment debt to Al-Saleh. Hall says the settlement released Burford and Burford’s agents (including Hall) from liability for actions taken before the signing date.
Moreover, by filing the email-tampering claims, Harry voided partial forgiveness of his $39 million, interest-accruing debt to Al-Saleh, Hall argues.
“Mr. Al-Saleh agreed to accept approximately $33 million spread over several payments [as part of the settlement],” Hall’s pleading reads. “But a key part of the agreement was that [Harry] would again be liable for the full amount owed if he resumed litigation.”
For his part, Hall is demanding damages from Harry in the Southern District of Florida on claims of malicious prosecution, among other counts. Hall is represented by Samuel Danon at Hunton Andrews in Miami, alongside Derek Ho at Kellogg Hansen in Washington D.C.
Harry is represented in the newly filed Palm Beach County state-court litigation by Christopher Kise at Foley Lardner.
The new wave of court battles shows that bad blood between these Sargeant brothers persists, in spite of a 2015 deal that looked (at the time) like it may quell tensions. Both brothers had been hurling allegations of corporate malfeasance and exorbitant spending against each other in Palm Beach court since at least 2013.
Back in 2015, The Palm Beach Post reported that under the deal, the Sargeant family’s Corpus Christi asphalt refinery would be sold for $100 million, with $56 million going to entities controlled by Harry. The deal was executed in conjunction with a bankruptcy reorganization for Sargeant-family-owned company Trigeant, the Post reported.