SAN DIEGO (CN) - A Mexican citizen claims that Sempra Energy paid a few thousand dollars in bribes to have him thrown in jail, his family evicted, and their home north of Ensenada bulldozed, so it could build a $1 billion power plant whose legally required setback intruded on his land. Ramon Eugenio Sanchez Ritchie sued Sempra for fraud, conversion, trespass, assault and battery and false imprisonment, in Federal Court.
In his 21-page complaint, Sanchez says Sempra Energy was awarded a 15-year natural gas supply contract, estimated at $1.4 billion, in January 2005 by the Comisión Federal de Electricidad
, Mexico's state-owned electrical utility.
But Sempra had a problem, Sanchez says: it did not own his 672 acres on Ensenada's Costa Azul.
Sanchez claims Sempra needed his land to satisfy the "setback cushion" required by its contract. The setback protects local residents from the dangers of living so close to a natural gas plant.
Citing press reports, Sanchez claims that Sempra bought up all of the neighboring land except his, and "paid up to $5 million for each of the properties located within the boundaries and setback cushion."
Sanchez says Sempra never bought his land, but built the plant along the coast of Baja California anyway. He claims the plant next to his land violated the setback requirement.
Sanchez claims that Sempra and its cohorts filed bogus purchase agreements with Mexican authorities to gain control of his land. The phony legal filings caused him and his family to be evicted from their own land, and Sanchez to be thrown in jail and prosecuted, he says.
He claims that Sempra "paid $16,000 in cash to Mexican officials who would not otherwise have raided plaintiff's property and falsely arrested plaintiff."
The complaint continues: "Once this illegal raid was successfully completed and plaintiff's home destroyed, Sempra Energy's management rewarded Alex Rios, a key LNG Plant employee with an all-expenses-paid $22,000 vacation to Europe, all disguised by Sempra Energy as a 'bonus.' The unlawful fraudulent eviction was unique in other ways. Not only was the bulldozing of plaintiff's ranch house swift and complete, but there was the establishment of a 50-person armed guard on the property, the payment of unusually large, and thus suspect, lawyer and other 'eviction' costs, and a purported contract to build an exorbitantly priced $1 million perimeter fence. Finally, not content to merely destroy plaintiff's home and assault his family in the process of eviction, Sempra energy through its agents filed false police reports and insisted even after securing plaintiff's land to their own use, to have him arrested and detained."
After a long tortuous run through the courts, Sanchez says, "On March 10, 2010, the Superior Court for the Tenth District of Baja California, Mexico held that plaintiff was the legal possessor of the property and absolved him of any criminal liability," the complaint states. "The Superior Court reiterated and again found that plaintiff is the owner and has been in lawful possession of the Property since 1983, and that Sempra Energy, Sempra Energy Mexico, and ECA knew as early as July 18, 2001, that plaintiff ... was in lawful possession of the property. It further ordered that possession of the Property be returned to plaintiff."
But that's not all, Sanchez says: "As a result of Sempra Energy's failure to comply with the court's order, on May 24, 2010, the court ordered that plaintiff's Property be restored to him within 24 hours of the issuance of the order. The Mexican authorities executed the order on May 25, 2010, and thereafter restored possession of the Property to plaintiff. However, because there now exists an LNG plant and pipeline within walking distance from plaintiff's property, plaintiff is no longer able to use or enjoy the Property."
Sanchez demands restitution and compensatory and punitive damages for unjust enrichment, emotional distress, interference with economic advantage, negligence, fraud, conversion, trespass, battery, assault, false imprisonment and unfair business practices.
And he wants Sempra ordered to place all the earnings it made or makes from his land into a trust in his name.
Sempra is the only defendant named in the complaint.
Sanchez is represented by Kirk Hulett with Hulett Harper Stewart of San Diego.
Here is a link to Sempra's view
of the case.