LOS ANGELES (CN) - Donors claim in court that anti-whaling activist Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society took donations from them under false pretenses, by intentionally sinking the ship they gave to the cause and then blaming Japanese whalers, to solicit more donations.
Ady Gil, owner of the eponymous ship Ady Gil, Vince Dundee, and Faast Leasing California, of which Dundee is a managing member, filed a civil RICO complaint against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Watson on Wednesday, in Superior Court.
Gil, an animal rights activist, says he got the 78-foot long ship by paying $1 million for a controlling interest in Earthrace Limited, its prior owner. He then donated the ship, which was renamed in his honor, to Sea Shepherd for use in its anti-whaling campaign.
He and Dundee say in the lawsuit that Watson and Sea Shepherd "lied to the world" about how the Ady Gil sank, so they could seek more donations and use the money "for their own gain."
"Within days of the sinking, Gil hosted a fund raiser at his home in Los Angeles, specifically to raise money for the replacement of the Ady Gil," the 24-page complaint states. "Defendants assured Gil the funds raised would be used to replace his namesake vessel. Sea Shepherd provided guidance on the 'script' used to solicit donations, insisted upon editorial input on the video shown to the donors and prospective donors in attendance at the fundraiser, and ultimately approved a version of the video ... which proclaimed the donations would be used to replace the Ady Gil. In the video, Gil stated, with the approval of Sea Shepherd and because defendant had stated that they would replace the boat with the funds raised, that '... we lost a piece of history, the Earthrace which turned into the Ady Gil, we have to build another one. And the other one is going to be faster and meaner and stronger.' In addition, Gil stated, 'I will take these funds specifically for the construction of a new boat, and it's not going to be used for anything else."
The fund raiser paid off, raking in $175,000 to $200,000 that night, including $12,000 worth of refreshments, equipment and security that Gil provided for the event and a $50,000 contribution that Dundee gave through Faast Leasing, the men say in the lawsuit. Both say they made donations because they believed Watson's story that the Ady Gil was sunk by Japanese whalers.
Donations to Sea Shepherd increased from approximately $3.4 to around $7.4 million in the year after the Ady Gil sank, which is "an all-time high" for the organization, according to the complaint.
But the men claim the story of the Ady Gil's demise was an elaborate ruse manufactured by Watson to generate publicity and "enhanced sympathy" for Sea Shepherd.
They say Watson ordered the Sea Shepherd crew to sink the ship on Jan. 6, 2010 after a 14-foot portion of its hull broke off in a collision with a Japanese whaling ship near Antarctica.
"The Ady Gil, however, was not lost, and could have been readily and economically transported to port and repaired, had it not been scuttled. Because of the unique structure and configuration, the loss of a portion of the boat was not fatal to the Ady Gil. Watson, the founder, president, and functional leader of Sea Shepherd, however, decided that the increased awareness of, and support for, Sea Shepherd that might result from the collision could be taken to an even higher level if the collision did not just damage the Ady Gil, but rather sent it to the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean," the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim Watson and his crew spent 30 hours gutting the Ady Gil of $100,000 to $150,000 worth of equipment, then "opened the sea cocks and hatches so she would flood."
"Then, they connected tow lines for a preconceived 'pretend tow,' and towed her for six hours while she progressively got lower and lower in the water, until eventually the tow rope broke. All GPS or other tracking devices were removed, and the Ady Gil was then abandoned so that no one could find her and see that she had been sunk intentionally," according to the complaint.
Watson continued to misrepresent what happened, the men say, including making a "false and fraudulent" video for Animal Planet's show "Whale Wars."
According to the complaint, the video depicted the Ady Gil listing in the water after the crew had opened the hatches to sink it so that it would look like the Japanese were responsible for its condition, and Watson and his crew lamenting that the ship was too damaged by the collision to save.
Gil claims that Peter Bethune, the Ady Gil's captain, came forward with the truth in an Oct. 5, 2010 email. Though Watson denied the allegations at first, he later admitted intentionally sinking the ship when Bethune challenged him to take a lie detector test, according to the complaint.
"The truth is now undeniable. The Ady Gil was intentionally sunk by Watson and Sea Shepherd to generate increased financial contributions. In essence, defendants 'tricked' Dundee, Gil and the public into giving money for the loss of a boat which defendants sunk on purpose," the complaint states.
Then, instead of using the money to build the Ady Gil 2 as promised, Watson used it for other things and refuses to replace the ship, the plaintiffs claim.
Sea Shepherd spokeswoman Lisa Agabian told Courthouse News that "Sea Shepherd vigorously denies these allegations" and that the group is "confident we will win at trial."
Gil and Dundee seek compensatory and treble damages, disgorgement and an injunction for RICO charges, unfair business practices and violations of the state Business and Professions Code.
They are represented by Mark Mazzarella with Mazzarella & Mazzarella of San Diego.
Sea Shepherd has made a name for itself opposing the Japanese whaling industry, which, with permission from the Japanese government, misrepresents it whaling vessels as research ships.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague in April this year declared
Japan's JARPA II scientific research program a front, used to continue illegal commercial whaling activities, according to the Courthouse News database.
Sea Shepherd follows and harasses the JARPA II ships to try to protect whale populations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters from being killed and sold for meat
The group's aggressive brand of activism has landed it in trouble with courts.
The 9 th Circuit
called Sea Shepherd an organization of pirates in a December 2011 ruling in favor of Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which had sued Sea Shepherd for violently attacking its ships.
On July 23 this year, a federal judge refused to dismiss
a similar piracy action brought against the organization by Japanese whalers, who claimed that Watson and his crew "rammed its whaling ships, threw smoke bombs and flares and dragged ropes to disable the ships' propellers, among other things."