Erik Prince, founder of the notorious and now covert military recruiting firm Blackwater, has confronted inquisitors of all types.
A House oversight committee once assaulted him for four hours over shootings and other acts of violence by Blackwater guards against civilians in the Iraqi war zone. Just last week, Prince testified before House investigators that he met with an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January to establish a support channel between President Trump and Moscow. The meeting, he later told reporters, was a "meaningless fishing expedition."
But on Wednesday, Prince, a Trump supporter whose sister Betsy DeVos is the US Secretary of Education. UU., He testified about matters much less consequential and in a much more modest way. Stage: Room 2C of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg, Virginia, approximately 40 miles west of the nation's capital.
Here, in the historic red-brick palace, Prince testified in a marathon suit against Robert Young Pelton, a prominent war correspondent with whom he teamed up to rejuvenate the Blackwater brand by selling expensive survival equipment, such as battle knives.
Pelton claims that Prince owes him almost $ 1 million in unreimbursed expenses. Prince says that Pelton owes him – as much as $ 2 million – to recover his investment in the attempt to restart Blackwater, which never made significant gains. Prince said Pelton squandered the money on a news website dedicated to Somalia with which Prince says he had nothing to do with it.
Pelton "claimed he had overdue bills [for the Somalia website] and paid the money I sent him for my Blackwater brand and instead put it in his own pocket," Prince said.
Throughout the week, the trial in Loudoun County has been quietly surreal. Typically, Prince is a magnet for the press corps, however, only one reporter sat in the courtroom. During the breaks, the former Navy SEAL talked frequently with his army of lawyers or his wife, Stacy DeLuke, a former spokeswoman for the company. On Tuesday morning, the second day of the trial, Prince was even recruited for technical tasks, helping to plug cables into the computer screens located in front of the jury box.
Although the lawyers clashed occasionally during breaks, Prince and Pelton kept their distance. Briefly, they shook hands just outside the court doors as the trial began.
As business partners, Prince and Pelton seemed the perfect match.
Prince, 48, a former Navy agent and CIA agent, built Blackwater at a million dollars during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before selling the company in 2010. Pelton, 62, whose DPx Gear sells knives for almost $ 400, has made a career by traveling to the most dangerous places in the world. He interviewed Prince for his 2006 book, "License to kill: hired guns in the war on terror" and for a profile of 2010 magazine in Men's Journal.
After the profile, according to Pelton, the two went into business together. Pelton contends that Prince summoned him to a meeting in November 2010 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the former head of Blackwater lived.
At that time, Prince was reportedly helping the United States. UU organize a private police force to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia and protect valuable sea routes for the Persian Gulf nation.
"I was the kind of idea," Prince testified Wednesday. "It was an exciting project."
Pelton, meanwhile, was in the early stages of building a news website in Somalia that reported on the whereabouts of hostages and pirates. It was called the Somalia Report.
According to Pelton, Prince asked him at his meeting in Abu Dhabi whether he would increase the Somalia Report in a news operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provide information on demand. , exclusively to Prince.
The men, according to Pelton, signed a contract. The terms: Prince would have to pay $ 133,000 per month, an amount that Pelton said Prince later agreed to increase orally to $ 150,000. Pelton said high rates would pay publishers and an extensive network of Somalis. Pelton testified that a Prince's advisor, Mike Shanklin, former CIA station chief in Somalia, witnessed the meeting at Prince's office in Abu Dhabi and the signing of the Prince document.
But Prince testified Wednesday that the signature on the Somalia Report contract is not there.
"Is that your signature on the front?" Asked Pelton's attorney, Brian Riopelle.
"It seems so," said Prince, before saying no. "I never signed a subscription agreement with Somalia [Report] with Mr. Pelton, no."
Also, Prince said, the signatures are not in the signing blocks of the contract and are in place on the cover. "It could be retouched," he said.
Nonetheless, Pelton's company began receiving wire transfers in early 2011 from entities mysteriously named as Flying Carpet S.A.L. and African Minerals Enterprise. Pelton supposed that the money came from Prince, or that he was sent at his request. Prince said on Wednesday that other people involved in the Somali private police force, including the US. UU., They were paying Pelton.
In March of 2011, Prince had a new idea. I wanted Pelton's help to revive the Blackwater brand. The company's reputation was severely damaged after several Blackwater guards killed numerous unarmed Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad roundabout in 2007.
The two men signed a second contract, which gives the Pelton company the right exclusive to develop and monitor new Blackwater products. Later that year, Prince invited Pelton to a barbecue and asked for help in a third project: his autobiography.
But in early 2012, Pelton testified, Prince stopped funding the Somalia Report website and had $ 720,000 in late payments. He sent bills to Prince but he did not hear anything in return. He suspected that Prince wanted to maintain his participation in the secrecy of the Somalia Report because a United Nations monitoring group was investigating Prince for possibly violating the UN arms embargo against Somalia.
When Prince finally sent Pelton a payment of approximately $ 920,000, Pelton allocated $ 720,000 to pay the outstanding debt of the Somalia news site. Pelton testified that he told Prince on numerous occasions about the distribution, but he did not hear dissent.
Prince, however, testified that the $ 720,000 should have been spent on only one thing: developing retail products to restore the brightness of Blackwater.
In October 2012, Pelton informed Prince that he had spent the $ 720,000 on Prince's alleged debt outstanding for the Somalia website. Shortly after, Prince amended his tax returns to report $ 720,000 in revenue.
"Mr. Prince," asked Pelton's attorney, "is it not true that after Pelton informed you about the allocation of the money, you turned around and received a refund from the donor [to the private police force in Somalia]?"
Prince He said the $ 720,000 turned out to be the amount he earned as a consultant in the Emirates, from the same company named as a party to the Somalia Report contract.
At one point in his testimony, Prince expressed his opinion about Pelton, saying that his former business associate "has an obsession" for "getting planted stories and a lot of nonsense about me."