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Rico Case

On February 1, 2011, Chevron filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Steven Donziger and other co-conspirators, alleging several claims including a conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (“RICO”).


On February 1, 2011, Chevron filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Steven Donziger and other co-conspirators, alleging several claims including a conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (“RICO”).  The complaint was supported by voluminous evidence detailing Donziger’s fraud and corruption in Ecuador.

Two weeks later, on February 14, 2011, a court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador issued an $18 billion judgment—later reduced to $9.5 billion—against Chevron. This judgment is illegitimate because of documented evidence of fraud and unethical action by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as well as the Ecuadorian government and judiciary, much of which played a prominent part in the New York action.

In a 500-page Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan detailed extensive evidence proving that the Ecuadorian judge who ruled against Chevron in the Lago Agrio case, Nicholas Zambrano, was paid thousands of dollars by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who illegally ghost-wrote Zambrano’s judgement. In his ruling, Kaplan stated, “The first major point is that the Court finds that Zambrano did not write the Judgement, at least in any material part. The LAP team wrote it, and Zambrano signed it.” The LAP team’s internal emails suggested it had been preparing to ghost write the Lago Agrio judgment since 2009.  Kaplan said “overwhelming and unrefuted” evidence established that “portions of at least eight of the LAP team’s internal work product documents appear verbatim or in substance in the Judgement.”

The U.S. District Court found that Zambrano was “unable to answer basic questions about the Judgement he ostensibly wrote.” In his testimony, Zambrano was unfamiliar with the scientific terminology presented as evidence in his own Judgement, and was also unfamiliar with an English word twice referenced within it. While Zambrano initially claimed he was the only author of his Judgement, he later changed his story after former Ecuadorian judge Alberto Guerra, who presided in the case when it was first filed on January 28, 2003, testified that another person, an 18-year-old typist, had helped in crafting Zambrano’s Judgement. Zambrano later acknowledged the typist’s role, then suggested that the two of them crafted the 188-page, single-spaced Judgement on their own in a matter of a few months, which, given the size of the document and the complexity of the subject matter, Judge Kaplan found impossible to accomplish.

As Kaplan states in his ruling, “the preparation of the Judgement in the time available…would have been a Herculean task for anyone.” Zambrano’s testimony was also found to be untruthful via evidence presented by a computer forensic expert. In addition, Kaplan noted Zambrano, who had been removed from the bench in 2012 for judicial misconduct in a separate case, was employed at the time of his testimony by a venture that was majority-owned by PetroEcuador, the Ecuadorian national oil company. The Ecuadorian government, and Ecuador’s then-President Rafael Correa, expressed vehement public support for the LAP team’s case and influenced Zambrano’s Judgment, the RICO ruling found. As Kaplan states, “The Court finds that Zambrano at least thought that his job would be in jeopardy if he did not testify favorably to the plaintiffs, and his desire to keep his job strongly motivated his testimony.” 

In summary, Kaplan found that “Zambrano did not write the Judgement issued under his name. He was astonishingly unfamiliar with important aspects of its contents. His testimony at trial was evasive and internally inconsistent. He repeatedly contradicted himself when attempting to explain how he wrote the Judgement, whether he received any assistance, and what materials he relied upon in doing so.”

In a sworn declaration filed on January 28, 2013, in New York federal court, Guerra, no longer a judge, revealed that he was also paid thousands of dollars by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as well as Zambrano for illegally ghostwriting judicial orders issued by Zambrano and steering the case in the plaintiffs’ favor. Guerra further attests that plaintiff’s lawyers promised to pay Zambrano a $500,000 bribe out of the judgment’s enforcement proceeds. Guerra further testified to reviewing the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ draft for Zambrano before the judge issued it as his own.

Guerra’s declaration was corroborated by computer, bank and shipping records, as well as the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ own internal e-mails. Read more about Guerra’s Admissions.

In addition, the environmental damages claims that underlay the February 2011 judgment have also been proven to be the result of fraud. On April 12, 2013, the plaintiffs’ chief environmental consultants, Boulder, Colorado-based Stratus Consulting, filed sworn statements detailing their knowledge of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ misconduct and testifying that there is no scientific merit to the allegations against Chevron.

In sworn declarations (here and here), senior Stratus executives detail the role the firm and the plaintiffs’ lawyers played in drafting the supposedly independent damages report of Richard Cabrera, which serves as an evidentiary basis of the 2011 judgment against Chevron in Ecuador. The testimony also provides a direct account of lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger’s control of the “Cabrera Report” process and the pressure Donziger applied to contrive damages attributed to Chevron.

The case went to trial in October 2013. During the seven-week trial, Chevron called 24 witnesses, offered deposition testimony from 21 others, and offered more than 3,000 exhibits into evidence. This testimony and evidence was largely unrebutted by Donziger and his co-conspirators. Testimony included those formerly aligned with the plaintiffs, who provided firsthand accounts of corruption:

  • Environmental Consultants: The plaintiffs’ key environmental consultants, from Stratus Consulting, provided sworn testimony disavowing their work for the plaintiffs’ lawyers and affirming that there is no scientific merit to the plaintiffs’ claims against Chevron.
  • Funders: One of the largest financial backers of the plaintiffs, Burford Capital, provided sworn testimony documenting fraud and other misconduct on the part of the plaintiffs’ lawyers to secure funding.
  • Former Judge: A former Ecuadorian judge who once presided over the case testified that the judge who issued the ruling was promised a half-million dollar bribe from the plaintiffs’ lawyers in exchange for ghostwriting the judgment in their favor.

On March 4, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the $9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment was the product of fraud and racketeering activity, finding it unenforceable. The nearly 500-page ruling finds that Steven Donziger, the lead American lawyer behind the Ecuadorian lawsuit against the company, violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), committing extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, witness tampering and obstruction of justice in obtaining the Ecuadorian judgment and in trying to cover up his and his associates’ crimes.

The ruling prohibits Donziger and his associates from seeking to enforce the Ecuadorian judgment in the United States and further prohibits them from profiting from their illegal acts. This decision was unanimously affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on August 8, 2016. The appeals court stated that Donziger and his team engaged in a “parade of corrupt actions…including coercion, fraud and bribery.”

Videos: Confessions of a Fraud

In May 2010, the Southern District of New York (SDNY) ordered the release of outtakes from the movie Crude. In the more than 500 hours of outtakes, Steven Donziger, the lead American lawyer behind the lawsuit, and his team and collaborators, including Amazon Watch, were caught, making candid remarks about pressuring, intimidating, and humiliating Judges in Ecuador to get them to rule in their favor. They even go as far as to discuss the possibility of a judge being killed if he ruled in favor of Texaco. Here are some of the outtakes Steven Donziger and his team don’t want you to see.


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