FRANK BAJAK & JEANNETH VALDIVIESO Associated Press Writers — October 30, 3009
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — A man who made clandestine video recordings used to discredit Ecuador in a $27 billion oil contamination lawsuit is a convicted felon with a history of legal troubles, The Associated Press has learned.
An AP investigation also has found no evidence that Wayne Douglas Hansen ever worked in his professed field of environmental remediation.
Hansen was one of two men who used spy cameras in a watch and a pen to videotape a judge in the lawsuit against Chevron Corp. Chevron released the images in August, saying they prove it can't get a fair trial in Ecuador and that the lawsuit over contamination in the Amazon rain forest should be dismissed.
Chevron says it had no prior knowledge of the meetings and "did not initiate or participate" in them. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they believe Chevron did know, and are asking U.S. prosecutors to investigate possible violations of laws including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The U.S. Justice Department won't say whether it is investigating.
Hansen and Diego Borja, an Ecuadorean man who has done technical contract work for Chevron, made the videotapes of the judge and another man who Borja says he understood to be tied to Ecuador's ruling party, and who offered them a contract to clean up a contaminated site if they paid $3 million.
Borja recorded the last video on June 22 in Quito. In a document Chevron released Monday, it says Borja met with outside attorneys for Chevron in San Francisco four days earlier to deliver recordings of the first three meetings.
"We believe this has all the telltale signs of a sting operation," plaintiffs' attorney Steven Donziger said.
The judge, Juan Evangelista Nunez, has insisted that the video was "edited and manipulated" and that he agreed to meet Hansen and Borja as a favor to a friend to explain the lawsuit. Nonetheless, Nunez recused himself, effectively prolonging the case by months while a new judge gets up to speed.
Court records show that Hansen, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating the importation of marijuana in a 1987 case in Brownsville, Texas. A co-defendant said that Hansen was in charge of buying a DC-7 that prosecutors alleged would be used to fly 275,000 pounds (124,740 kilos) of marijuana to the United States from Colombia.
Hansen, a U.S. citizen who served 19 months in federal prison in that case, also lost civil lawsuits charging him with unleashing two pitbulls on a neighbor, and with tearing up the walls of another person's house with a jackhammer, according to California county court records and the plaintiffs.
Hansen, a Bakersfield, California, resident, did not return a telephone message Thursday seeking comment on his legal history.
In the videotapes, taken in May and June, Hansen is introduced as an American groundwater remediation executive with extensive international experience. In one of them, Borja says Hansen's company has "an exclusive franchise for Honeywell for water treatment plants." Honeywell International Inc. spokesman Jake Saylor called that untrue.
Hansen, in two brief interviews, told AP he had water-treatment projects in Mexico and Ecuador. But when a reporter questioned those claims, he hung up.
Chevron flew Borja and his wife to the United States in late June for their protection and committed to finding them "suitable employment," according to documents released by Chevron this week. But Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said that the company "is not associated" with Hansen and has given him no money, though it has offered to pay for security and legal fees relating to the videotapes.
A high-profile San Francisco attorney who earlier agreed to represent Hansen told the AP on Thursday that she no longer represents him. The lawyer, Mary McNamara, refused to comment further.
Although little is known about Hansen's employment history, California court records show a litany of legal troubles.
In one case, a court ordered him to pay $5,000 to a neighbor who said Hansen unleashed two pit bulls on her and her golden retriever in 2006, badly mauling her pet. The plaintiff, Kresse Armour, said Hansen never paid.
In September 1998, a court ordered Hansen to pay a couple $8,846 for tearing up the inside of their home with a jackhammer with the apparent intent of creating an assisted-living facility. Hansen's wife, Lilianne, had her wages garnished and apparently paid the balance, according to court records in which she specified that Wayne had zero monthly income.
The AP's findings on Hansen, based largely on public records, coincided with information from a private investigator that the plaintiffs made public Thursday and said they would present to U.S. and Ecuadorean prosecutors.
The plaintiffs, who say they represent about 30,000 inhabitants of the Ecuadorean Amazon, claim a consortium operated by Texaco from 1972-1990 contaminated much of a Rhode Island-sized oil patch, causing elevated cancer rates. They are seeking damages for cleanup and to compensate for illnesses.
Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, bought Texaco in 2001. It says a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador's government following a $40 million cleanup frees Chevron of liability. It calls the cancer claims unfounded.
Chevron says Ecuador should be investigating the alleged extortion scheme captured in the videotapes.
Bajak reported from Bogota. Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report from New York; Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman contributed from Brownsville, Texas.