Toronto

Bizarre hate mail case involving Toronto millionaire, Marvel CEO gets weirder

A Toronto businessman who has accused the head of Marvel Entertainment of slandering him through a hate mail campaign has now taken legal action against a former employee, claiming he's a "willing scapegoat" in the alleged scheme.

Prolonged legal feud between Harold Peerenboom and Isaac Perlmutter takes another turn with new lawsuit

Harold Peerenboom, seen in this illustration from a CBC profile of him published in November, has filed a legal action against Toronto resident David Smith, a former employee of Peerenboom's executive search firm Mandrake Management. The lawsuit is another development in a lengthy legal battle between Peerenboom and American billionaire Isaac Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment and personal friend of U.S. President Donald Trump. (Philip Street/CBC)

A Toronto businessman who has accused the head of Marvel Entertainment of slandering him through a hate mail campaign has now taken legal action against a former employee, claiming he's a "willing scapegoat" in the alleged scheme.

The lawsuit is another development in the prolonged and bizarre legal battle between Harold Peerenboom and American billionaire Isaac Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment and personal friend of U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a new twist, Peerenboom has filed a separate legal action against Toronto resident David Smith, a former employee of Peerenboom's executive search firm, Mandrake Management, who was fired in 2011. Peerenboom accuses Smith of being in cahoots with Perlmutter.

The lawsuit also names Tom Thorney, a business partner and friend of Smith's, along with "John and Jane Does 1 to 10." The latter represent other individuals who, according to the court filing, "assisted and conspired" in the alleged hate mail scheme.

Peerenboom, left, alleges a dispute with Perlmutter, right, over the management of the shared tennis courts at their Florida condo complex sparked the hate mail campaign against him. This illustration is from a CBC profile of Peerenboom and the case that was published back in November. (Philip Street/CBC)

"As part of the scheme, [Smith] understood that he would be used as a scapegoat and a diversion in the event that the anonymity of his co-conspirators was breached," the complaint says.

None of the allegations has been proven in court. 

Peerenboom was already embroiled in a civil case against Perlmutter, claiming the business titan, his wife, Laura, and unnamed "co-conspirators" mailed out thousands of anonymous letters to Peerenboom's friends, family members and work colleagues in Toronto from 2012 to 2015.

The letters included false allegations that Peerenboom had been involved in the sexual assault of a boy and a double murder. 

Letters were also sent to fellow residents of a condo complex in Sloan's Curve Palm Beach, Fla., where both Peerenboom and Perlmutter own homes. Peerenboom alleges a dispute with Perlmutter over the management of its shared tennis courts sparked the hate mail campaign against him.

Letters to prisoners

Other mailings were sent to Peerenboom himself. They contained sample letters that were meant to look like Peerenboom had written them. They were addressed to prison inmates across Canada and the U.S. and included insults and racial epithets against the prisoners.

"I wrote the prisoners on your behalf and challenged them to come see you!" the anonymous author wrote.

"No one will be happy until you leave our neighbourhood — until you leave Sloan's Curve — get out now."

The Perlmutters have long denied the allegations they took part in the hate mail campaign against Peerenboom. However, they did admit to sending negative press clippings about Peerenboom in 2011 to residents of their condo complex.

This, Peerenboom's team has contended, is the so-called smoking gun that implicates the Perlmutters.

But the Perlmutters have argued they were just letting Sloan's Curve residents know whom they were dealing with in the tennis court dispute. The articles were all available online, and none of them would be considered hate mail, their lawyer Roy Black said.

In court documents, the Perlmutter legal team has suggested that Peerenboom himself may have been involved in the hate mail campaign. They cite reports that Peerenboom might have been willing to settle the matter for $400 million as evidence that it was all a scheme on Peerenboom's part to extort money from Perlmutter.

DNA theft?

In their countersuit, the Perlmutters also accuse 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.

Peerenboom's legal team has countered that the Perlmutters' interpretation of the law regarding DNA is too broad, and that the police were aware of what Peerenboom planned to do and expressed no misgivings.

As for any connection between the Perlmutters and Smith, the couple's lawyer dismissed the accusation.

Peerenboom, pictured above, is suing Perlmutter, claiming the business titan, his wife Laura and unnamed 'co-conspirators' mailed out thousands of anonymous letters to Peerenboom's friends, family members and work colleagues in Toronto from 2012 to 2015. (mandrake.ca)

"Somehow a New York billionaire running Marvel would find some disaffected employee of Mandrake and co-opt him into doing this hate mail campaign with him? Good luck trying to sell that one," Black said.

It's not exactly clear why Peerenboom's company, Mandrake, fired Smith in 2011. Court documents filed by Perlmutter as part of his defence against the slander accusations quoted Peerenboom as saying Smith was fired "after he was caught misappropriating Mandrake proprietary information ... [and] other misconduct at the firm." Peerenboom also said, according to the court documents, that Smith "may or may not be disgruntled."

(Mandrake has also filed a $25-million lawsuit against Smith, claiming he violated the terms of a settlement agreement after he was fired.)

But Smith's alleged ties to this 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 a UPS store in Florida. Two letters were addressed to Peerenboom's wife, Robin, at the couple's residences in Palm Beach and Toronto.

Two others were addressed to employees of Mandrake.

The letters were similar to other letters that had been sent out against Peerenboom previously. They said that if Peerenboom didn't leave Palm Beach, the letter writer would send other letters claiming Peerenboom was a child molester to prisoners across North America.

"These letters invite the convict to come visit your husband — they provide your address here in Florida and Canada," a letter addressed to Robin Peerenboom said. "Be a good mother and sell your place here on Sloan's Curve."

Former employee charged

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.

Smith was charged on June 22, 2017, with extortion, forgery and criminal harassment. Those charges were later stayed. Smith signed a $500 peace bond and was ordered not to have any contact directly or indirectly with Peerenboom.

Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, has denied the allegations levelled against him by Peerenboom. Instead, he and his wife are accusing Peerenboom of stealing DNA samples from them while they were giving testimony at a deposition hearing in Florida. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

But Peerenboom's legal team still maintains Perlmutter was behind the hate mail scheme. And in new legal documents, filed Feb. 15, Peerenboom outlines Smith's alleged role.

Smith teamed up with Thorney, who had known Smith for years and hired him following his departure from Mandrake, according to the court documents filed by Peerenboom.

How the Perlmutters allegedly connected with Smith is not specified in Peerenboom's most recent court action.

It only alleges that sometime between the years 2012 and 2016, Smith "was approached about the then on-going hate mail campaign against Peerenboom. He agreed to participate in the scheme in return for payment."

The documents allege those payments to Smith were concealed through payments to an audio production company owned by Thorney and another audio production company founded by Smith and Thorney.

'Prepared a go-bag'

"[Smith] also prepared a 'go-bag' — a packed travel bag with cash and passport for quick travel out of the country," the complaint says.

While neither Smith nor Thorney had any connection to the condominium complex in Florida, "the hate mail consistently referred to information peculiar to Sloan's Curve that was supplied by the co-conspirators," the court documents say.

Robert Centa, a lawyer representing Thorney, said no charges were filed against his client and he was completely cleared by the authorities.

"He has unfortunately been named in a new Florida action," Centa said in an email to CBC. "Mr. Thorney denies the meritless allegations made against him."

Smith and his legal representatives did not respond to the CBC for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

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