ORLANDO (CN) – Creators of “The Queen of Versailles” had the proper releases to film a timeshare magnate and his properties, a federal judge ruled, positioning an arbitrator to resolve defamation claims.
The 2012 documentary shows how the Great Recession has rocked the Westgate Resorts timeshare empire captained by its founder, David Siegel.
Forbes calculated that Siegel had a net worth of $1 billion in 2007. Just before the housing market crashed, he and his wife, Jackie, were building the largest home in America that they christened Versailles, as well as an icon property in Las Vegas, the Planet Hollywood Towers.
At one point in the film, Siegel tells the cameras: “So uh, this is kind of like a reverse rags to riches story, this is almost like a riches to rags story.”
He and Westgate Resorts filed suit earlier this month, alleging that the filmmakers took material out of context to make viewers think that his empire collapsed and that his home went into foreclosure.
Siegel said he operates 27 resorts and that his company “was thriving as of 2008 before Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global economic crisis began.” He said Westgate “suffered, as did all of the real estate segment of the U.S. economy, from the fundamental change in market conditions, including especially, the sudden unavailability of credit.”
The complaint alleges that director Lauren Greenfield did not have the proper release to film at Westgate properties and company meetings, and that Siegel was not aware of it.
He also said that his son, Westgate vice president Richard Siegel, did not have the authority to sign a binding agreement.
Greenfield argued that Siegel knew about every single trip and authorized all filming through his agent Richard.
U.S. District Judge Ann Conway stayed and administratively closed the case Thursday citing a November 2011 that calls for arbitration.
Richard Siegel signed a property release for Westgate Resorts and a location release for the PH Towers, according to the ruling.
Conway concluded that Richard was a designated agent and had permission to sign off on documents and monitor Greenfield’s filming.
Greenfield said David Siegel told her in 2010 how the Planet Hollywood Towers “was the most important property that he had ever built and how that was his legacy, and if he saved it, it was going to be his greatest legacy.”
Siegel allegedly said: “And if I save it, you can film it. If I don’t save it, you can film it. If I blow it up, you’ll be there.”
She said David Siegel allowed her to go back to the PH Towers to film and that Richard would handle everything.
Siegel’s claims of being left out of the loop strain credulity, according to the ruling.
“Considering David Siegel described his management style as dictatorial and one ruled with an iron fist, it seems quite bizarre that for two years, without David Siegel’s knowledge, the defendants would visit Westgate Resorts’ locations and would film meetings with directors, vice-presidents, and customers and interview his son Richard, who had an accompanying office in Orlando,” Conway wrote. “Thus, Defendants have shown that David Siegel appointed Richard Siegel as Westgate Resorts, Ltd.’s agent for purposes of filming Westgate Resorts-related shoots.”
Greenfield, producer Frank Evers and their joint venture Greenfield/Evers LLC must file and serve status reports on the arbitration by May 1, and every three months thereafter, according to the ruling.
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