Jeff Bezos and his chief of security on Monday accused the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend of trying to extort the Amazon chief after leaking his private text messages to the National Enquirer.
In a filing in California court, Bezos and his longtime personal security consultant, Gavin de Becker, claim that Michael Sanchez, the older brother of Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren, is abusing the California legal system in an attempt to extract money from Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man. The case stems from Sanchez’s leaks of text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez to the National Enquirer, as first reported by The Daily Beast in early 2019.
Michael Sanchez filed a defamation lawsuit against Bezos and de Becker in California on Friday, accusing them of defaming him through public statements and comments to the press that implicated Sanchez in those leaks. Sanchez is seeking unspecified damages.
“Extortion rears its head again in this lawsuit, this time not only aimed at Defendants but also directly threatening speech protected under the First Amendment,” wrote William Isaacson, the attorney for Bezos and de Becker, in their Monday motion. “By filing this lawsuit, Mr. Sanchez hopes to put himself back on the front pages and extract money from Defendants by leveraging the current media environment to harass them.”
Bezos’ motion, and Sanchez’s underlying lawsuit against him and de Becker, come a year almost to the day after Sanchez was revealed as the main source behind a huge Enquirer expose on Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez. American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, has since confirmed that Michael Sanchez provided text messages between the couple that undergirded that story.
Sanchez has never denied that he provided those text messages, and in fact admitted in his lawsuit that he worked with AMI on its Bezos expose “to get ahead of the story,” as his lawsuit characterizes his involvement. The lawsuit also admits that AMI paid him $200,000 for information that informed the Enquirer’s reporting—“to cooperate strategically” on the story, as the lawsuit puts it.
The complaint Sanchez filed on Friday appears to be the third draft of the lawsuit. Two previous, unfiled versions, each drafted by different attorneys, were attached as exhibits to Bezos’ and de Becker’s motion. One of those undated drafts even alleged violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by Bezos, de Becker, and Lauren Sanchez’s ex-husband, Hollywood talent agent Patrick Whitesell, collectively referred to as the “Jeff Bezos Protection Racket.” Those allegations did not make it into the version of the lawsuit filed on Friday.
Bezos’ and de Becker’s motion on Monday seeks to dismiss Sanchez’s lawsuit under a California law that penalizes “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” commonly known by the acronym SLAPP. The law allows for the swift dismissal of frivolous lawsuits designed to stifle a defendant’s First Amendment rights.
“California’s anti-SLAPP law is one of the strongest in the country, and has the most developed law surrounding it,” according to Ken White, a former federal prosecutor in the state and now a partner at the Los Angeles law firm Brown, White & Osborn, LLP. “Judges are quite familiar with it here and generally do not hesitate to grant the motions when warranted.”
“I think this turns on how competent Sanchez’s lawyers are at opposing the SLAPP,” White said of the anti-SLAPP motion in this case. “The quantum of evidence needed to survive is very small—Sanchez only needs to offer evidence that, if accepted as true, could possibly be enough. So, if they can get their act together more than they did in the poorly-drafted complaint, they could survive. But the defense has the upper hand.”
At issue is reporting that revealed and detailed Sanchez’s involvement in the Enquirer story. The Daily Beast first reported that Sanchez had provided the tabloid with Bezos’ text messages. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that Sanchez and AMI had a contractual agreement under which Sanchez would be paid $200,000 to provide the Enquirer with the text messages and photographs that informed its Bezos reporting.
“It was Michael Sanchez who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation,” AMI said in a March 2019 statement.
Sanchez has sought, in his lawsuit and public statements since last year, to deflect questions about his involvement by denying that he provided AMI with nude photographs of Bezos, which the Amazon chief claimed AMI had used in an attempt to extort him. Contrary to Sanchez’s claims in his lawsuit, The Daily Beast never reported that Sanchez provided AMI with those photos.
The anti-SLAPP motion takes aim at that tactic directly. “The Complaint fabricates defamatory statements to manufacture a basis for a lawsuit,” Isaacson writes. “Mr. Sanchez does this by inventing statements that are not anywhere within the materials he cites.”
Sanchez’s lawsuit also claims, inaccurately, that this publication sourced its reporting on Sanchez to “Amazon investigators.”
His lawsuit against Bezos and de Becker comes in the wake of reporting on a criminal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the Enquirer’s Bezos reporting. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that federal prosecutors in New York have evidence that Lauren Sanchez provided communications with Bezos to her brother, who subsequently sold them to AMI.
A separate inquiry commissioned by de Becker and funded by Bezos has concluded with moderate to high confidence that the government of Saudi Arabia successfully hacked Bezos’ phone. That report did not conclude that any material in the Enquirer’s story had come from the Saudis.