NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – Attorneys for Chevron on Oct. 24 asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to hold disbarred attorney Steven R. Donziger in contempt for his alleged continued efforts to personally profit off a pollution scam in the South American country of Ecuador.
The case spans over 20 years and began with Donziger being hailed as an environmental champion by environmentalists and the news media. More recently, the legal battle morphed into a different image: An alleged crooked attorney willing to do virtually anything to squeeze money out of a corporate oil giant.
Judge Lewis Kaplan, senior judge for the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York, ordered added information to be made public in the case.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended Donziger from practicing law in Washington D.C. last month following the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court suspension of his license in New York State last July.
As a result Donziger has no current courtroom in which to practice law.
He is accused of illegal and unethical activity, professional misconduct and racketeering including bribing judges and court-appointed experts, fabricating evidence, pressuring scientific experts to falsify reports, intimidating judges to make favorable rulings, ghostwriting court reports and even drafting and doctoring a final judgment.
All of it was designed allegedly to milk money from Chevron Corp. over its alleged pollution of the Ecuadorian Rain Forest in South America by oil drilling in the 1990’s conducted by Texaco.
In 2011, a judge in Ecuador ordered Chevron to pay Donziger and the plaintiffs he represented $18 billion. That amount was later reduced to $9.5 billion on appeal, but because Chevron had no assets in Ecuador, Donziger was forced to seek the judgment through courts in the U.S.
Chevron fought back, presenting evidence Donziger considered courts in Ecuador to be corrupt and easily manipulated, and that the alleged pollution was not as bad as had been claimed. The oil company paid $40 million for cleanup in Ecuador and signed an agreement with the government there absolving it of any further liability.
Donziger meanwhile claimed he was the victim of a gigantic corporate revenge campaign.
In 2013, Chevron went after Donziger, launching a trial in New York charging him with racketeering and violations of statutes under RICO, the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In March of 2014 the Court decided Donziger’s actions in the case were corrupt, noting it was so extraordinary it could normally only “come out of Hollywood.”
The court declared the $9.5 billion judgement against Chevron “fraudulent and unenforceable.” Donziger was ordered to pay $813,000.
In March of this year, Kaplan, who had presided over the RICO case, issued a 485-page finding in which he said Donziger had won his case in Ecuador by fraud and the bribing of an Ecuadorian judge who was promised $500,000 for a favorable ruling.
The Southern District of New York determined Donziger had orchestrated ill-gotten gains though coercion, bribery, money laundering, fraud and racketeering activity.
On Oct. 25 Kaplan ordered an attached motion that had previously been severely redacted to be made public.
The information alleges Donziger’s continued attempts to profit off the earlier Ecuador court judgement despite the RICO trial judgement, that he raised at least $2.4 million (for a total $40 million) and at least $1.5 million ended up in he and his wife’s bank account.
The findings said Donziger allegedly continued to profit by selling interest in the Ecuador court judgment, laundering money from the scheme by routing it through Canadian lawyers representing Ecuadorian plaintiffs. In addition the document charges Donziger with attempting to cover up evidence by asking a crony to erase emails about a potential investor.
He is also accused of refusal to transfer to Chevron funds traceable to the Ecuadorian court judgment and failing to abide by a "default judgement."
Donziger allegedly sweetened his deal by paying or sharing interest with celebrities and activists including Roger Waters, of the rock band Pink Floyd, Canadian activist Phil Fontaine, and Kevin Koenig, a senior strategist with Amazon Watch, a rainforest protection nonprofit based in Oakland, Calif.
Donziger has also been accused of attempting to “pressure” Chevron to make a settlement by funding and helping to sponsor an upcoming environmental conference titled “Indigenous Solutions for Environmental Challenges,” to be held Nov. 10-12 in Alberta, Canada. The conference is being organized through Kathleen Mahoney, the wife of Fontaine, who has an interest in the Ecuador judgement.
Donziger reportedly made a $50,000 payment for the conference and budgeted $200,000 to help sponsor it.
It is further alleged Donziger tried to promote a covert cooperative effort between the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, an aboriginal peoples’ protection nonprofit and the Amazon Defense Front, tasked with opposing Texaco and its operations in the Ecuador Rain Forest.