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Fraud in Chevron Ecuador Case at Center of Controversy for Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and New York’s Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli

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At right, Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch, with her arm around “Crude” director Joe Berlinger. The movie has exposed the case against Chevron by Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and attorney Steven Donziger as a fraud.

 

Environmental groups Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network’s attempt to blame Chevron for alleged damage to the Ecuador rainforest took a major blow this past year as evidence counted to mount that they are simply front groups for the plaintiffs in a fraudulent lawsuit.

While the three groups are planning protests against Chevron at its annual shareholders’ meeting this week in San Ramon, Calif., all have been exposed as front organizations that have been funded by the plaintiffs in the case against Chevron.   Equally damning, New York’s comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, who is leading a small shareholder’s challenge to Chevron, was paid with campaign contributions by the plaintiffs for his support of their cause, according to a New York Times story.

Chevron Corp. recently released a series of public information videos which provide never-seen-before evidence documenting the legal and scientific deceptions committed by the plaintiffs in the fraudulent $18 billion legal case against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

The case against Chevron in Ecuador was brought by U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers, and funded by hedge funds and other speculators.  They even produced their own documentary film, Crude, as part of their multi-billion-dollar scheme.

But through legal discovery in the United States, Chevron has exposed the fraud using the plaintiffs’ own videotapes, emails, and internal documents.  This unimpeachable evidence—including over 600 hours of video outtakes from Crude—vividly depicts the falsification of evidence, judicial corruption, and government collusion permeating this litigation.

The videos contain outtakes from the movie “Crude” by Hollywood director Joe Berlinger as well as new video from depositions of lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger, plaintiffs’ Philadelphia attorney Joe Kohn, environmental experts Douglas Beltman and Ann Maest from Stratus Consulting in Denver, and other plaintiffs’ experts who admit that their submissions to the court in Ecuador were falsified and that no contamination exists by Chevron.

The evidence also shows that Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network are not independent environmental organizations, but in fact paid front organizations that represent the plaintiffs and do their bidding, according to the court documents.  DiNapoli’s meetings and the contributions that he received from the plaintiffs against Chevron were also exposed in the materials obtained by Chevron and submitted to the court.

At the heart of the fraud in Ecuador against Chevron is ‘independent’ environmental expert Richard Cabrera, who was appointed as an expert in the trial. The Lago Agrio court ordered him to “perform his duties . . . with complete impartiality and independence vis-á-vis the parties.”  Yet the same day as his appointment, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger arranged to have a secret bank account opened to pay bribes and hush money to Cabrera.  Donziger then arranged to have Philadelphia attorney Joe Kohn transfer $100,000 to the secret account once Cabrera’s work was underway, the videos prove.

Despite the secret agreements and his filing of plaintiffs’ work as his own, Cabrera emphatically stated his independence before the Ecuadorian court:  “I should clarify that I do not have any relation or agreements with the plaintiff, and it seems to me to be an insult against me that I should be linked with the attorneys of the plaintiffs.”

While having Cabrera pose as the Court’s independent expert, Donziger and attorney Joe Kohn hired U.S. contractors at Stratus Consulting to secretly draft Cabrera’s ‘independent’ report.  Stratus Consulting ghostwrote the Cabrera report in English, a language Cabrera does not speak, with the opening line – “This report was written by Richard Cabrera…to provide expert technical assistance to the Court in the case of Maria Aguinda y Otros vs ChevronTexaco Corporation.”

Shortly before the report was to be filed, it was translated into Spanish.  A forensic analysis of Plaintiffs’ lawyers’ computers revealed that on March 31, 2008 – the day before the Cabrera Report was filed – plaintiffs’ lawyers were putting the finishing touches on the report.

The “Cabrera Report” found on plaintiffs’ lawyers’ computers matches word-for-word the $16 billion damage assessment filed by Cabrera the next day, on April 1, 2008.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers continued their fraud by employing Stratus Consulting in Denver, an environmental consulting firm, to draft objections criticizing the Cabrera Report as “unjustly favorable to Chevron.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers and Stratus then ghostwrote a second report in Cabrera’s name, responding to their own criticisms and inflating the damages to over $27 billion.

In all, Stratus was paid nearly $1 million to secretly draft Cabrera’s report, criticize that report, and then respond to that criticism in Cabrera’s name. Commenting on their deception, Stratus Principal Douglas Beltman wrote:  “Oh what a tangled web…”

Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo denied the Plaintiffs’ relationship with Cabrera to the court and stated publicly:  “Chevron’s claim that Professor Cabrera is cooperating with the plaintiffs is completely false….Chevron is frightened by Cabrera precisely because he is an independent and credible expert.”

After reviewing this mountain of evidence of wrongdoing, one of the plaintiffs’ newly recruited U.S. lawyers concluded in a memo sent to fellow counsel that plaintiffs and Cabrera “can be charged with a ‘fraud’” and that Stratus “was an active conspirator.”

And in a discovery proceeding brought by Chevron against Stratus Consulting, at least two of the U.S. law firms representing plaintiffs withdrew from the case citing ethical reasons. With their case crumbling, the plaintiffs’ lawyers scrambled to devise a cover up.  They decided to try and “cleanse the record” by laundering the Cabrera Report’s conclusions through the mouths of six new experts.

Under oath, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger admitted that none of the new experts ever visited Ecuador, or “did any kind of new site inspection,” “new sampling,” or “environmental testing of any kind.” And the new “experts” admitted when deposed that they relied on the data and conclusions in the discredited Cabrera Report and did not conduct any independent.

Presented with evidence of the Cabrera report and cleansing expert frauds, courts across the United States have concluded that the plaintiffs’ Ecuador litigation is a massive fraud.

Reflecting the views of courts across the country, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina wrote:  “While this court is unfamiliar with the practices of the Ecuadorian judicial system, the court must believe that the concept of fraud is universal, and that what has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court.”

The video exposes that when the Ecuadorian lawyers found out that a US court had authorized discovery of their internal documents demonstrating their collusion with Cabrera, one wrote to Steven Donziger, “The effects are potentially devastating in Ecuador.  Apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”

Even though video and email evidence from the plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants secretly acknowledged they have no evidence of environmental contamination in internal e-mails, the Ecuadorian court swept aside the undeniable evidence of fraud and issued an $18 billion judgment later proven ghostwritten by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Based on the same evidence of fraud ignored by the Ecuadorian court, an International Treaty Arbitration Tribunal ordered the Republic of Ecuador “to take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition” of the Ecuadorian Judgment against Chevron.

Despite the fraud in the lawsuit, the corruption of Cabrera, and the clear evidence that the $18 billion judgment itself was ghostwritten, Ecuador claims the judgment is legitimate, and that Chevron should pay.  But Chevron remains committed to exposing the truth about the Lago Agrio lawsuit, and ensuring that the perpetrators of the fraud are brought to justice.

Filled with intrigue, accusations of corruption, bribery and dirty tricks, the complex case is now being fought on three fronts: Ecuador’s Supreme Court; a New York court handling the racketeering lawsuit filed by the Chevron against Steven Donziger and the plaintiffs and their experts; and an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.

And, back here in the United States groups like Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network continue to present themselves as environmental organizations when the reality is that they are paid front groups that do the bidding of the plaintiffs in the case. New York comtroller DiNapoli is in the same boat.

As the New York Times reported: When Mr. DiNapoli took office in 2007…Mr. Donziger sent an e-mail to allies in the environmental movement, according to the court records.

“The advantage of a guy like this,” Mr. Donziger wrote, “is that he is political, meaning, if we show him how he can look good going after Chevron, he might be even more likely to help us.”

In a January 2009 e-mail, Mr. Donziger told an assistant to deliver a number of campaign contributions to Mr. DiNapoli, and to write one check from Mr. Donziger’s personal account.

“Take checks to his office and deliver them personally,” he wrote. “However, call me before u do this — I am worried this might not be a great idea.”

State campaign filings show that several thousand dollars were contributed to Mr. DiNapoli’s campaign at the time by Mr. Donziger and others on the plaintiffs’ side.

In May 2011 Mr. Di Napoli said that the case “is looming like a hammer over shareholders’ heads,” and called on the company to settle it to repair its “grave reputational damage.”

Last month he repeated the demand. A spokesman for Mr. DiNapoli, Eric Sumberg, said the comptroller’s involvement in the case had nothing to do with lobbying or campaign contributions.

It “is directly attributable to the potential impact of a negative legal outcome that would have an economic impact on the Common Retirement Fund,” Mr. Sumberg said.

Ms. Hinton (the publicist for the Amazon Defense Coalition) pointed out that Chevron had contributed millions of dollars to political campaigns during the course of the lawsuit.

“It’s Chevron’s right to do that, but when we contribute a few thousands, it’s a criminal conspiracy,” she said.

 

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Chevron loses tax appeal in Contra Costa County


By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
From the Contra Costa Times

MARTINEZ — Chevron has lost an appeal of the property values assigned to its Richmond refinery and will pay an additional estimated $26.7 million in taxes rather than collect a refund worth nearly three times that amount.

The county, cities and special districts heaved a big sigh of relief at Monday morning’s Assessment Appeals Board decision, which could have forced public agencies to repay Chevron as much as $73 million.
Chevron had accused Contra Costa Assessor Gus Kramer of intentionally driving up the refinery’s taxable values between 2007-2009.

But the three-member panel said the evidence showed Kramer actually undervalued the Richmond operation by 10 to 23 percent. It raised the refinery’s fair market values, respectively, at $3.7 billion, $4.4 billion and $3.8 billion for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Chevron put the values substantially lower at $1.8 billion, $1.4 billion and $1.1 billion for the same years.
Two years ago, the oil company received a $17 million refund on its 2004-2006 property taxes based on a prior appeal’s board decision. Chevron filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 assessed values. Hearings start April 16.

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Chevron Appeal of Contra Costa County Property Tax Bill Set for Monday

The illegal bullying tactics of Country County Assessor Gus Kramer are coming back to haunt him and County Costa County this week.

A Contra Costa County property assessment appeals board will release its decision Monday on Chevron’s challenge of its Richmond refinery values. Kramer was accused of fabricating evidence and ordering his employees to destroy the paper trail of his wrongdoing in the Chevron case, according to legal documents filed with the County.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery seeks refunds up to $73 million in property taxes from 2007 through 2009, slightly more than half of what the company was assessed for its 2,900 acre Richmond property which it has owned since 1902.

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Kramer’s actions could have serious impacts for each of the 143 public agencies in the county that could be required to pay back $73 million to Chevron if the Appeals Board rules in its favor. A prior challenge by Chevron resulted in an $18 million refund for the Richmond Refinery for overpaid taxes in 2004-2006.

The county and cities, along with fire, parks and other dozens of other special districts, will bear the burden of any repayment at a time when most public agencies have already experienced years of declining budgets.

Chevron said on Friday that if it wins its appeal, it will not press the County and its 143 agencies for immediate repayment. Instead the oil company would like a fair and reasonable system of tax assessments, for Kramer’s illegal bullying tactics to end, and for stability and honesty from the County in how its taxes are calculated.

Chevron argued that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and his staff acted illegally and unethically and intentionally miscalculated the final numbers for its tax assessment.

In response, Kramer accused the oil company of costly appeals and lawsuits in an effort to lower its taxes.

If the three-member appeals board sides with Chevron, it will be the refinery’s second victory in its nearly eight-year fight with Kramer over its tax assessments.

To date, Chevron has been victorious over Kramer and his department and their tactics in calculating the worth of Chevron’s Richmond property.

The panel in 2010 ordered a repayment of $17.8 million on the refinery’s 2004-2006 appeal, a figure short of what the company sought. Chevron subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 property values.

Refinery spokesman Dean O’Hair said the company remains eager to negotiate with the county a settlement of all the appeals and the lawsuit.

If the appeals board orders a refund on Monday, O’Hair said Chevron will again work with the county to minimize the financial impact on the public agencies including a phased-in repayment schedule and a waiver of interest.

The public appeals board hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the Contra Costa County administration building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.

Chevron has detailed the wrongdoing it says led to its unfair assessment of its Richmond Refinery and submitted it as evidence in the case. The refinery operation said that the 2007-2009 roll values were fabricated by assessor Kramer in violation of California property tax laws. In addition, the refinery submitted evidence that:

–Mr. Al wise, formerly senior appraiser in the assessor’s office, testified that he instructed Ms. Jenny Ly to enroll specific values for each lien year based on instructions Mr. Wise had received from his boss, assessor Kramer. The assessor offered no evidence to rebut Mr. Wise’s testimony.

–Ms. Ly admitted that taxpayer information was either deleted or altered in order to get the total taxable amounts to come out equal to the values she was directed to enroll. The assessor offered no evidence that the roll values were based on anything other than the arbitrary directives of assessor Kramer.

It appears assessor Kramer attempted to cover-up or disguise this illegal process by tasking his staff to generate a new analysis for the hearing and then hide or destroy the original roll value workpapers, according to Chevron’s legal filings.

“If a decision is made in our favor, we will notify the County Auditor Controller’s office to hold any tax refund, and forego any interest, while we continue to work with the County Assessor’s office on negotiating a settlement. Our goal is to achieve a fair and transparent process for calculating our taxes going forward, which will bring greater stability to Contra Costa County’s local communities and agencies, and help mitigate the impact on local agencies,” said the refinery’s spokesman O’Hair

“We fully appreciate the challenges facing the County and local communities and the potential impact this could have on you / your constituents. We have spent more than 8 years trying to negotiate a settlement to prevent this unnecessary stress on public organizations that are concerned about having to repay the taxes that the County overcharged,” O’Hair added. 

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