7/1/2010 5:07:00 AM,
Jacqueline J. Holness
ATLANTA (CN) - A lawyer who told NBC's "Dateline" he would pay $1 million to anyone who could make it from the Atlanta airport to a La Quinta Inn in 28 minutes - as his client was accused of doing in a capital murder case - refused to pay a man who took him up on it, the man claims in Federal Court. Dustin S. Kolodziej claims he accepted attorney James Cheney Mason's challenge, made his deadline, and now he wants the $1 million.
Mason appeared on "Dateline" to discuss his client Nelson Serrano's capital murder trial. Serrano, a wealthy businessman, was accused of killing his business partner George Gonsalves and three other people in 1997. Serrano claimed he was in Atlanta and the murders happened in Central Florida. Serrano was convicted in 2006 and is on Death Row, according to the complaint.
"Video cameras at the Atlanta La Quinta showed Serrano at the hotel a few hours after the murders. Serrano's defense was that it would have been impossible for him to have committed the murders in Florida and been at the Atlanta La Quinta by the time the video showed him there," the complaint states.
Mason repeated that defense on "Dateline" and challenged his viewers. The complaint cites an NBC transcript of the show: "'In less than half an hour, Serrano would have had to get off a wide body jet, exit Atlanta airport - one of the busiest in the world - and arrive back at his hotel 5 miles away. All in time to be photographed looking up at that surveillance camera.'
"Mason then issued the challenge at the center of this lawsuit. According to the Dateline transcript, Mason said: 'I challenge anybody to show me, I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.'"
The complaint continues: "The Dateline reporter questioned Mason to make sure he understood the terms of the challenge: 'If they can do it in the time allotted?' Mason clarified: '28 minutes. Can't happen. Didn't happen.'"
Mason claims the TV show edited his comments, according to the complaint. But Kolodziej cites Mason's version of his challenge: "According to Mason he said, 'And from there to be on the videotape in 28 minutes. Not possible. Not possible. I challenge anybody to show me, and guess what? Did they bring in any evidence to say that somebody made the route, did so? State's burden of proof. If they can do it, I'll challenge 'em. I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.'"
Kolodziej adds: "Even if Mason's version is his unedited statement, it contains in substance the same challenge as broadcast by Dateline."
Kolodziej, who was a law student in 1997, says he followed the case and accepted Mason's challenge in December 2007, just after the 10th anniversary of the murders.
"He retraced Serrano's alleged route, flying from Atlanta to Orlando, driving to the scene of the murders, then flying back to Atlanta. Kolodziej made the last leg of the journey - from the airplane to the La Quinta - within the required 28 minutes," according to the complaint.
Kolodziej sent a video of his trip along and a demand letter to Mason, who responded that his challenge was "just a joke and that '[c]ertainly neither you (reasonably) or anybody else could think that there was a clear intention to pay anybody a million dollars or any other amount.' Mason refused to pay Kolodziej the promised $1 million," according to the complaint. (Brackets and parentheses as in complaint.)
But Kolodziej demands $1 million and attorney's fees.
He is represented by Christopher Moorman of with Moorman Pieschel.