Marvel's Ike Perlmutter, a Trump Friend, Hopes Homeland Security Helped Solve Bizarre Mystery

Perlmutter is now claiming extortion — and a court filing suggests that Trump's go-to lawyer may have known about it.
Newscom/REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

For the longest time, decades in fact, Marvel chairman Isaac Perlmutter wouldn't show his face in public. The 74-year-old Israeli American could very well have taken a bow for rescuing Marvel Comics from bankruptcy in the 1990s or selling his company to Disney for $4 billion in 2009, but Perlmutter has never been interested in publicity. His aversion to the limelight runs so deep that he's no longer CEO of Marvel, and yet, news outlets continue to confer that title upon him because there has never been any press release announcing he had relinquished that role.

So it was an odd sight this past January when Perlmutter did make a public appearance before cameras. At a press conference, Permutter was with his friend Donald Trump. A few days before becoming President of the United States, Trump took the occasion to remark on how Perlmutter was "one of the great men of business." The following month, Perlmutter appeared again with Trump at U.S. Central Command Headquarters, causing CNBC to pause market coverage for a moment and note amazement — not at what Trump said, but rather the presence of one of the country's most reclusive business figures.

The spectacle was curious for another reason. At that moment, Perlmutter was being hounded in court for allegedly perpetrating one of the nastiest and most bizarre hate mail campaigns in Florida's history. As the story has been told, Perlmutter got into a feud over beloved tennis courts and attempted to win at all costs by having anonymous mailings sent throughout the state defaming his adversary as a sexual predator, a Nazi and more. But was Perlmutter really culpable or was it all just a fantastic gambit to frame him in a big-money extortion attempt?

Perlmutter has now come forward with a stunning rewriting of the tale. On Tuesday, he filed a bombshell court filing that focuses on what was quietly discovered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year. This filing professes to reveal the true source behind the hate mail. And if true, the information also may hold consequences for Marc Kasowitz, the same lawyer who Trump just tasked to represent him in matters related to the Russia investigation. Kasowitz is not only Trump's go-to attorney, he's also representing Perlmutter's archenemy.

A Tennis Match Without Any Love

The guy Perlmutter is battling is Harold Peerenboom, the founder of multinational executive search firm Mandrake Management.

Both Perlmutter and Peerenboom live in a swanky waterfront Palm Beach complex known as Sloan’s Curve, where in 2011, a dispute erupted over the tennis courts. Peerenboom didn’t like how these tennis courts were being run by a woman named Karen Donnelly for more than a decade without competitive bidding on a contract. So Peerenboom lobbied other residents at the glitzy community to address the situation. Perlmutter didn’t appreciate this. Donnelly would file a lawsuit against Peerenboom for allegedly smearing her at community board meetings. Later, it was revealed, the Marvel chairman had secretly contributed money for Donnelly's legal campaign.

But the tennis court grudge match went much, much further.

That year, Peerenboom's neighbors received anonymous mailings critical of the Toronto businessman's politics. Subsequent mailings to Peerenboom's business colleagues would accuse him of attempting to cover up a sexual assault and supporting Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution." One series of mailings allegedly went out to more than a thousand inmates in prisons across Florida and Ontario, Canada, in Peerenboom's name, with provoking statements like, "While your [sic] in jail, I am writing to your mom, telling her exactly what kind of scumbag you are."

For these harmful messages, Peerenboom has publicly blamed Perlmutter and his wife, Laura. He's suing for defamation and has taken extraordinary steps to show that the Perlmutters are the ones behind the hate mail.

For instance, on Feb. 27, 2013, Peerenboom forced Perlmutter’s deposition at a West Palm Beach, Fla., law firm. The purpose was to ostensibly question Perlmutter about funding Donnelly’s lawsuit, but Peerenboom had a secret plan to collect his foe’s DNA. A private investigator and a testing facility were hired and showed up with "special paper” to capture the Perlmutters' DNA. According to court papers, Perlmutter was instructed to touch phony exhibits. What was surreptitiously gathered was then to be tested against genetic material taken from the hate mail.

In March 2017, The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin reported that Peerenboom's legal team said a private lab had found a direct DNA match to Laura Perlmutter.

But that allegedly wasn't the whole story. 

According to Perlmutter's cross-claims that would follow, the DNA samples had been forwarded from one genetics lab to a second, which came back with exculpatory, or non-matching, results. The report was then allegedly returned to the first lab, where it was distorted, reinterpreted and then disseminated to the press to falsely implicate the Perlmutters in the hate mail campaign. Or so Perlmutter has asserted in court papers.

In January, Perlmutter got a judge’s go-ahead to pursue a trail-blazing legal claim over the theft of his DNA. 

Meanwhile, Peerenboom has been hunting for more evidence. Soon after the DNA gambit, Peerenboom switched representation to the law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres. One of Peereboom’s lawyers is Marc Kasowitz. The legal team has aggressively gone to various New York judges to push for discovery. Just last week, for instance, Peerenboom for the first time directly alleged the involvement of Marvel employees in the smear campaign. He’s seeking to enforce a subpoena compelling testimony from Marisol Garcia, Perlmutter’s personal assistant, and Robert Grosser, Marvel’s internal security officer.

"Discovery so far has revealed that the Perlmutters utilized Marvel personnel, including Garcia and Grosser, in their affairs at Sloan’s Curve and to assist with aspects of the vicious hate mail campaign," states the petition. "In fact Garcia was involved in the circulation of materials that appeared in the first anonymous mailing..."

But that doesn't exactly jibe with information revealed today by Perlmutter.

Homeland Security's Surprise Discovery

In January 2016, Customs and Border Protection agents in Detroit apparently intercepted a suspicious package on route from a UPS Store in Toronto to one in Aventura, Fla. The contents were soon passed along to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to Perlmutter's filing, the package consisted of a "hate mail kit" — letters inside sealed envelopes with addresses preprinted, and three sets of latex gloves to allow the recipient to handle the contents without leaving any DNA or fingerprints.

The sealed envelopes are said to have used the same kinds of stamps and the same formatting, font and style as the previous hate mail, including one that demanded that Peerenboom leave his home in Palm Beach with threats to inform prison inmates that he was a child molester.

"After law enforcement officials seized and inspected the contents of the package, they discovered that the Palm Beach Police Department was investigating the same case," states Perlmutter's filing. "Working with the Palm Beach Police Department, Homeland Security replaced the package with a dummy and arranged for the shipping information to reflect that the package was 'in transit,' to avoid arousing suspicion. With the full cooperation of the ownership and staff at the Aventura UPS Store, law enforcement officials began a surveillance operation at the store."

Nobody picked up the package. The sting wasn't successful on the American end. But Perlmutter's lawyer continues by saying that Homeland Security contacted Canadian federal authorities, who discovered that a guy by the name of David Smith had mailed the package to himself using an alias.

Who is David Smith?

"David Smith is a former employee of Peerenboom’s company, Mandrake, where he worked for 14 years, eventually rising to the rank of partner, and served as a director of a Mandrake affiliate," states the court filing.

One might theorize that as a possibly disgruntled employee of Peerenboom, Smith wanted to harm his boss by anonymously sending hate mail. But that's not the motive Perlmutter's attorney attributes. The court filing seizes upon other clues to suggest something far more outlandishly sinister. For example, some of the hate mail used Hebrew slang — which Perlmutter, as someone from Israel, sees as an attempt to frame him. Then, there's the suggestion that Peerenboom wasn't disturbed enough by hate mail to prisoners to check if any prisoners had actually received correspondence. According to the new filing, some of the alleged prisons that got the hate mail weren't even operational. Finally, there's been apparent testimony from other Sloan's Curve residents as well as a comment by Peerenboom in The Globe and Mail noting the possibility of a huge monetary settlement.

"Peerenboom and David Smith’s interests in framing the Perlmutters for the hate-mail campaign were perfectly aligned," states the court filing. "David Smith gathered information about the Perlmutters that were a matter of public record and dropped prominent breadcrumbs in the hate-mail letters that would point to the Perlmutters as the culprits. Peerenboom, in turn, gobbled them up. Putting aside the fact that it would not make sense for the Perlmutters to transparently identify themselves in a supposedly anonymous hate-mail campaign, David Smith’s efforts were so clumsy they could only possibly fool someone — like Peerenboom —who either wanted to be fooled or was in on the act."

Viewed under this harsh light, the secret plan to collect the Perlmutters' DNA is now being called the "centerpiece of the extortion scheme."

Smith's lawyer Frank Addario responds that his client "is not connected to this dispute and has nothing to do with the hate mailings."

 The Kasowitz Connection

The new information, if true, could be a shocking twist in a six-year-old feud between two rich businessmen, but it also involves Kasowitz, who was recently given the important assignment of representing Trump as outside counsel as federal investigators probe whether his campaign colluded with Russian authorities in this past presidential election. In the battle between Perlmutter and Peerenboom, Trump's name has popped up before. In August 2016, The Hollywood Reporter covered the saga only to hear a suggestion from Perlmutter's camp that Peerenboom has a private DNA data bank of many neighbors and also has dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. In response, Kasowitz told THR that his client didn't know Trump and considers the implication Peerenboom harvested Trump's DNA to be ridiculous and untrue.

Kasowitz now is taking some blame from Perlmutter for his role.

"After throwing their lot in with Peerenboom and his criminal plot, Kasowitz has been forced to spin a web of lies, distortions, and misrepresentations to advance the extortion scheme and to conceal its fraudulent and illegal components," states the new filing.

On behalf of his client, Kasowitz certainly has been aggressive in the court fight. He and others at his firm have been in New York looking to enforce subpoenas to build evidence against Perlmutter. In the course of doing so, they have been consistent telling judges that the Perlmutters are to blame for the hate mail with nods as late as last week to evidence purportedly demonstrating their involvement. The Kasowitz firm even has successfully pierced Perlmutter's asserted attorney-client privilege because emails were being sent on Marvel's servers when Disney had a policy allowing monitoring.

Now, according to Perlmutter, "There is reason to believe that Peerenboom and Kasowitz knew — or at least suspected — that David Smith was responsible for the hate-mail campaign from the start."

The court filing goes into ways that Peerenboom's legal team allegedly attempted to frustrate discovery about Mandrake employees, specifically Smith, and how they continued to smear Perlmutter in court and in public. It's also said that Peerenboom's private investigator was told months ago that the police investigation identified Smith as the alleged culprit.

"To put it simply," states Perlmutter's court filing, "even though Peerenboom's private investigator has been aware of the facts proving the Perlmutters' innocence for months, neither Peerenboom nor Kasowitz disclosed those facts to any of the Courts in New York or Florida in which this action is pending. Rather, Peerenboom and Kasowitz have continued to file accusatory motions — including a motion filed in New York court as recently as last week — repeating false allegations for which they have no factual support. This is a perversion of justice and a violation of Kasowitz's obligation to 'comply with the provisions of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct.'"

Peerenboom’s camp didn’t respond to a request made last week to detail the evidence buttressing the claim of Marvel employee involvement. Today's filing does include some acknowledgement from Perlmutter that in June 2011, he and his assistant disseminated to his friends, neighbors and Sloan's Curve board members copies of "publicly-available and true articles published" about Peerenboom.

"Thus began and ended the Perlmutters' involvement in the matters alleged in Peerenboom's complaint," states the filing. "It appears that this innocuous mailing gave Peerenboom and/or David Smith the idea to frame the Perlmutters."

In response, a spokesperson for the Kasowitz firm tells THR, "The Perlmutters' midnight filing contains nothing more than false, unsupported propaganda -- except that it actually admits, for the first time, that they were involved in the hate mail campaign against Mr. Peerenboom. Even worse, in an attempt to attract publicity for this abusive filing... the Perlmutters also make utterly false and wild accusations against Marc Kasowitz and his law firm."

"The pretext for their filing is a recent law enforcement disclosure of a mailed package that was intercepted by U.S. Homeland Security at the Canadian border," the spokesperson adds. "They claim it is a 'break' in the case, but it is no such thing. The truth is that Mr. Peerenboom had nothing to do with the package. Indeed, it is still unknown who is responsible for the package, which is under investigation. Contrary to the Perlmutters' filing, it is still unknown if David Smith, a disgruntled former employee of Peerenboom’s company Mandrake, is involved, and, if so, whether and to what extent he is connected to the Perlmutters and their hate mail campaign. What is now known – because the Perlmutters for the first time admit it – is that the Perlmutters themselves sent the first anonymous mailing about Peerenboom to residents of Palm Beach in June 2011. That critical admission comes today after years of denial by the Perlmutters and only after Peerenboom successfully sued in New York to obtain critical emails from Perlmutter's company, Marvel, concerning the Perlmutters’ involvement in the hate mail campaign. In the face of that overwhelming evidence, and now their own admission, their speculation about another suspect is merely a distraction. Mr. Peerenboom and the Kasowitz law firm will address and seek redress for this frivolous and sanctionable filing..."

Roy Black, Perlmutter's attorney, sees things differently. He writes, "Now that the true culprit of the hate-mail campaign has been identified, the time has come for this Court to put an end to Peerenboom's scheme to extort the Perlmutters, which requires two preliminary steps."

Black first demands the opportunity to depose those connected with Peerenboom — including Kasowitz — to learn what they knew and when they knew it. He also wants Peerenboom precluded from "further harassing the Perlmutters," including cancelation of a deposition scheduled for Laura that was set to begin next month.

As for why this new information is only now surfacing, which might raise eyebrows given Perlmutter’s close connections with Trump, his attorney Black explains that he was able to obtain a full police report via a public records request once the Palm Beach police investigation had ended. That revealed the bombshell discovery by Homeland Security.

Nevertheless, Black admits there are a couple of mysteries lingering. One is why Smith never showed up at the UPS store to pick up the package he allegedly sent himself. The other is why the package was deemed suspicious enough for it to be intercepted by customs agents and opened by Homeland Security. Regardless of the answers, Black and the Perlmutters are thankful they did.

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