As a Connecticut jury on Wednesday announced damages totaling nearly $1 billion against conspiracy theory propagator Alex Jones, the far-right figure proclaimed his poverty.
“It’s not gonna happen, no money,” Jones claimed on his livestream.
Of course, few believe it. An expert testified at an earlier trial that Jones and his companies were worth between $130 million and $270 million. Yet Jones and his attorneys have taken extraordinary steps in an apparent effort to obscure the amount — and location — of his wealth, leading many to wonder whether plaintiffs in the Sandy Hook libel cases will see never even a fraction of the judgment they fought. for years to win in court, assuming it stands after post-trial motions and appeals.
A game of “cat and mouse”
The families could collect current assets and future earnings from Jones, as long as they are willing to pay lawyers to pursue and unravel his financial dealings, financial litigation experts told Grid.
“It becomes a cat-and-mouse exercise,” said James E. Berger, a partner at DLA Piper and an expert in judgment enforcement and asset recovery. “The legal tools available to plaintiffs can sometimes be laborious and slow, but the statutory tools are in place to ensure a judgment creditor can find what is out there.”
The family’s lawyers seem willing to try.
“We’re going to chase Alex Jones to the end of the world,” Joshua Koskoff, an attorney representing the Sandy Hook families, told MSNBC.
Some strengths would seem easy to spot. For example, Jones owns five homes in the Austin, Texas area with a combined value of $7.5 million, Forbes reported. Earlier this year, as libel trials neared, Jones transferred one of those homes, worth more than $3.5 million, to his wife, Erika Wulff Jones, according to the New York Post.
But Jones has tied up much of his wealth in a complex web of entities, financial transactions and bankruptcy proceedings. Jones’ main corporate entity, Free Speech Systems, declared bankruptcy in July, a move widely interpreted as an effort to thwart efforts to obtain legal judgments against him. Additionally, Jones and his kin have set up an “alphabet soup of holding companies,” some of which seem to exist only on paper, with opaque goals. The families claim Jones used the entities to mix up money and hide his true wealth.
Additionally, Jones allegedly transferred millions of dollars to a family trust and repeatedly refused to comply with court-ordered discovery of the transactions, further complicating efforts to understand his financial situation.
The Jones Bankruptcy Mess
Until Free Speech Systems’ bankruptcy proceedings are settled, assets related to Jones or his companies will be virtually untouchable by families. But these companies and their financial activities will come under increased scrutiny from lawyers and family investigators.
“He’s going to have to maintain his lifestyle, and to do that you need access to money,” said Christopher Weil, managing partner of Mintz Group, an investigative firm specializing in tracking global assets. “That’s the interesting piece here – paying attention to what he’s doing and the kinds of fingerprints he’s leaving.”
“You’ll find the assets, even if it’s a laborious process,” Berger said. “Anytime you have a high-profile, high-profile judgment debtor, there are likely both public sources of information and people who may be willing to talk, which can be very helpful to investigators.”
Weil agreed. “A lot of people will probably be willing to talk, it’s just a matter of finding them.”
The landmark judgment against Jones is the result of years of claims by Jones that the shooting was a “false flag.” Whatever amounts Jones ultimately pays out, experts agreed the judgment will likely follow Jones and his businesses for the rest of his life.
How to hide a fortune?
Bankruptcy Judge Christopher M. Lopez authorized increased scrutiny of Jones’ companies due to their “lack of candor” during the bankruptcy proceedings.
In a subpoena filed the same day as the Connecticut verdict, the trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Free Speech Systems sought information from several of the companies controlled by Jones and his family members; of Jones’ father, David Jones; of a company controlled by his sister, Marleigh Jones Rivera; and Jones’ personal trainer and associate, Patrick Riley.
Riley recently came under scrutiny in the case over a $400,000 payout and transfer of warehouse operations to his company, Blue Asension [sic] Logistics. The trustee’s subpoena came in response to the court ordering them to investigate the Free Speech Systems books.
Jones and his attorney, Norman Pattis, did not respond to a request for comment, but Jones denied the fraud allegations to other publications. Jones and his attorneys claimed there was nothing unusual about the companies he started and that all recent money transfers were for Jones’ estate planning.
Future earnings can be fair game
Sensing opportunity, Jones used the verdict as an opportunity to shake his proverbial tin cup at his online subscribers, promising that their donations were protected from paying his rewards.
“The money you give is not going to these people, it’s going to fight this fraud and stabilize the business,” Jones said on his show Wednesday as the judgments against him were read aloud. As of Monday, Jones’ donation page had more than $230,000 in donations, with more donations every two minutes.
Not so fast, said the lawyers Grid spoke to.
Sandy Hook families may be entitled to future earnings from Free Speech Systems. There’s a catch: the search for future earnings could tie the size of their payouts to the success of the InfoWars empire. Families may not find this tolerable.
The bankruptcy court could also order the company to liquidate its assets, which would then go to the families and any other creditors, according to Avi Moshenberg, an attorney representing the families in the Texas bankruptcy case.
“I can keep them in court for years”
Jones is transparent about his strategy to counter the families’ collection efforts: delay, appeal, frustrate.
“For hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can keep them in court for years, I can appeal this stuff, we can stand against this travesty, against whatever billions of dollars they want. It’s a joke,” Jones told his audience last Wednesday.
Maybe, say the experts. But maintaining this strategy can be harder than it looks.
“It is very easy to build complex structures. It is very difficult to maintain them,” explained Weil of the Mintz Group. “What we find is that the people who helped maintain these things have to be paid. They must be encouraged to continue to exploit the [businesses]. If the money dries up, if there’s a big reward there, it’s going to cause problems,” Weil said. “People’s professional and personal interests will no longer align.”
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.