A Florida judge has dismissed a high-profile lawsuit launched by a Toronto businessman who had accused the former head of Marvel Entertainment of slandering him through a hate-mail campaign.
The ruling by Judge Cymonie Rowe of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court may put an end to a nearly eight-year legal battle waged by millionaire Harold Peerenboom against American billionaire Isaac Perlmutter and his wife Laura Perlmutter.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the Perlmutters had any hand in those mailings,” Rowe wrote in her summary judgment, dated Monday.
Instead, Rowe singled out David Smith, a former employee of Peerenboom’s executive search firm, Mandrake Management, who was fired in 2011, and Tom Thorney, a one-time business partner and friend of Smith’s, as the letter-sending culprits.
The ordeal began in 2011 over a dispute about the management of the tennis court at the Palm Beach, Fla., condo complex where both men own homes. During that dispute, the Perlmutters sent out old news article clippings about Peerenboom to residents of their condo complex.
But from 2012 to 2015, thousands of anonymous letters were mailed out to Peerenboom’s friends, family members and work colleagues in Toronto. Letters were also sent to fellow residents of the condo complex and to Peerenboom himself.
The anonymous letters falsely accused Peerenboom of being a child molester, murderer and antisemite. Peerenboom sued the Perlmutters, alleging they were behind this hate-mail campaign. While admitting to sending the clippings in 2011, the couple denied they had anything to do with the letters sent from 2012 to 2015.
Peerenboom had also alleged that his former employee Smith, at some point, connected with the Perlmutters, who then involved him in the hate-mail scheme.
Smith’s alleged ties to the hate-mail campaign came after U.S. customs agents in Detroit intercepted a suspicious package in 2016 that included four pre-addressed, postage-paid letters and three sets of latex gloves. The package had been en route from a UPS store in Toronto to one in Florida; two letters were addressed to Peerenboom’s wife, Robin, at the couple’s residences in Palm Beach and Toronto. The two others were addressed to Mandrake employees.
The letters were similar to others that had been sent out against Peerenboom previously.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security contacted federal authorities in Canada and discovered a man by the name of David Smith had allegedly mailed the package to himself, using the name Tom Thorney.
In court documents, Smith has denied any involvement in the hate-mail campaign or that he knows the Perlmutters.
In her ruling, Rowe said that Pereenboom himself has conceded during depositions that he has no evidence linking the Perlmutters to anything except the June 2011 mailing, which the Perlmutters had admitted to sending.
Rowe said the court record, detailed in Perlmutters’ statement of facts, “richly establishes” that Smith and Thorney were the perpetrators of the scheme and that “no jury could find that the Perlmutters had any involvement.”
‘Overly thrilled’ by ruling
Roy Black, the Florida-based lawyer representing the Perlmutters, told CBC News that his clients were “overly thrilled” by the judgment, as a cloud has been cast over their reputation for nearly eight years.
“Now they’ve been completely exonerated. So it’s an enormous burden off of them” he said.
“The court went out of its way to say that she believed that the Perlmutters were totally innocent and had nothing to do with this.”
Peerenboom’s legal representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Robert Centa, a lawyer representing Thorney, said his client had no comment about the judgment.
Smith’s lawyer Jordan Katz told CBC News in an email that Smith wouldn’t comment on the judgment as litigation against him both in Florida and Ontario remains before the courts.
While the slander case may have come to end, another legal dispute between the Perlmutters and Peerenboom continues to move forward. In a countersuit, the Perlmutters accused Peerenboom of stealing DNA samples from them while they were giving testimony at a deposition hearing in Florida. This, they claim, was all part of Peerenboom’s plan to try to prove they were connected to the slanderous letters.
“[It’s] sort of a groundbreaking lawsuit,” Black said. “We’re really looking forward to this because, what’s more privacy than … your DNA.”