Techdirt Threatened With Defamation Suit Over Story On Feds Getting Royalty In Movie From Mexican Drug Cartel Money Launderer
from the the-sequel dept
In case you missed the original story, it involved a guy by the name of Jorge Vazquez Sanchez, who everyone seems to admit was somehow connected to a Mexican drug cartel. The government specifically charged him with money laundering and extortion. Reporters covering the story, including Guillermo Contreras and Jason Buch at the San Antonio Express-News, refer to Vazquez as a "drug trafficker."
Either way, the extortion claim came from the way he took ownership of a screenplay for Mary, Mother of Christ, which was written by Benedict Fitzgerald, who also wrote the screenplay for Passion.... Fitzgerald, at some point, took out and then defaulted on a business loan for $340,000 with Macri Inc. Because of this, the owner of Macri Inc., Arturo Madrigal, took possession of the screenplay. Some time after this, apparently Vazquez had Madrigal's brother kidnapped in Mexico, and demanded the rights to the screenplay in exchange for his release. Madrigal signed over the rights to the screenplay to Vazquez. Vazquez apparently then was able to sell the screenplay to Proud Mary Entertainment, which was later renamed Aloe Entertainment, in exchange for $1 million (less some fees) and a 10% royalty rate on any profits from the movie. After Vazquez did a plea deal in which he plead guilty and handed over that 10% royalty to the US government, Madrigal hit Vazquez with a separate lawsuit, seeking to regain control of the screenplay that Vazquez had obtained through these questionable means.
As far as we can tell all of the above are undisputed facts. It's what has been reported by others. It's what's in the legal documents. And it's what we reported. Our report focused almost entirely on the oddity of the US government ending up with a 10% royalty interest in a Hollywood movie.
And yet... we received a very threatening email claiming that our post was defamatory. The full email (complete with a series of typos, though minus the odd line breaks) is posted below. The lawyer who sent it claims to represent the producers of the film who purchased the screenplay from Vazquez. This may mean Aloe Entertainment, though the email never names the client. Oddly, the email, while insisting that our post was defamatory, more or less repeats the identical facts as we described them in the original post, and which we are reiterating here. The email does appear to raise two issues:
- Our original post referred to Vazquez as a "drug smuggler." This was based on the San Antonio Express-News report that refers to him as a "drug trafficker." Perhaps there is a difference between one and the other, but it does not seem to be one of significance. Either way, the threat email was quite upset that we did not specify that he was merely "acting as a money launderer for a Mexican drug cartel." I will admit that I do not see how this makes a major difference one way or another, but in the interest of accuracy in reporting, we have changed our original reference from "Mexican drug smuggler" to now say "money launderer for a Mexican drug cartel" -- which is how both the federal prosecutors and the lawyer sending the email appear to describe him. Considering that the lawyer claims to represent the production company, however, I still am at a loss as to how this matters. I do not believe our original statement in any way defamed the production company. It was a mere use of a synonym for the original report. But that should only concern Vazquez. It makes no mention of Aloe Entertainment nor any statement about that company.
- The threat email says that the headline of our post "implies that the film has drug money in it" and suggests that "the film or its production has drug ties." Except we never said that. We did not state it. We did not imply it. We said nothing of the sort. We explained the same chain of events that we explained above, which noted that the production house bought the screenplay from Vazquez. Nowhere did we suggest that drug money went the other way. So, we were left somewhat baffled by the threat.