Tuesday, October 12, 2010

US Marshals interrupt dressage warm up during WEG 2010 to serve notice of deposition to Sjef Janssen regarding $500,000 fraud case

Well-known dressage trainer Sjef Janssen was found liable for fraud to the tune of $500,000 in a civil suit back in 2001, but apparently he never paid his fines. During WEG 2010, he was served a notice of deposition by US Marshals, but was not actually detained. The court documents for this lawsuit, Neal v Janssen , are easily found online.

If you don't feel like reading through the legal-eze, here's a summary of the fraud case:

In 1997, Sjef Janssen agreed to act as agent (for a 10% commission) in selling a very expensive dressage horse named "Aristocrat" that was located in the Netherlands, but owned by the Neals of Tennesee. The Neals wanted to sell Aristocrat for $500,000. In 1998, Janssen said that the Neals were asking too much for the horse and that he would forgo his commission if they would sell the horse to a buyer he found who was willing to pay $312,000. The Neals eventually agreed to sell for $312,000. The Neals later found out that Janssen actually sold the horse for $480,000. They sued him in civil court (that Janssen refused to appear at) and won $250,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages, totaling $500,000. He appealed the case on the basis that since he is a foreign national and never lived in Tennessee, the Neals didn't have the right to sue him. The Sixth circuit court of appeals rejected Janssen's appeal on the grounds that he travels world wide and did own a house in Florida during the time the fraud took place. Thus the case was decided in favor of the Neals in October 2001.

“defendant appears to be well traveled throughout the world, including the United States, where he once owned a house in Florida. It seems apparent that defendant offered no defense not because of any undue hardship but rather because he had no valid defense on the merits. His effort to stand on the defense of no jurisdiction must be rejected.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the district court.”
-- 2001 FED App. 0379P (6th Cir.), File Name: 01a0379p.06, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT ( http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=search&case=/data2/circs/6th/006122.html )

In September of 2010, the Neals filed another civil suit with the Kentucky Eastern District Court. I imagine they filed in Kentucky because of WEG 2010 being held there. They must have rightly assumed that Janssen would appear at the games. I presume this more recent suit is what led to the marshals' actions during WEG 2010, since I believe that Janssen has been in the US several times since the original suit.

Apparently, almost 10 years later, Janssen still hasn't paid the judgment given by the court. And no one, outside of a few blog and forum posts, is saying anything about it. Why not? It's quite easy to find the legal documents about the case. In addition to the link given above, here are some other links that I've found with court documents about the case.






However, outside of the actual court documents, it is very hard to find any information about this lawsuit and Sjef Janssen's failure to comply with the ruling of the court. Also, I originally couldn't find any information, outside of a blog post by Camera Obsura, about US marshals having to interrupt what is the equivalent of the horse olympics to serve notice to the Dutch dressage team trainer. When I asked the author of Camera Obscura about her sources, she gave me some information that led me to a an article by Astrid Appels published on Eurodressage.com that briefly mentions US marshals interrupting a WEG 2010 dressage warm up to depose “a famous dressage trainer” who was in the warm up arena.

“Tyrone Neal ... told me a story about a famous dressage trainer who was deposed by U.S. Marshalls on Wednesday at the warm up area (confirmed by witnesses), as he still ows[sic] the Neal family a substantial amount of money. Justice will prevail. (for detailed info check out the replies of "Rat King" on the Chronicle forum) “ -- http://www.eurodressage.com/equestrian/2010/10/06/words-weg-6-october-2010-thinking-back-days

If you follow the link to the Chronicle of the Horse forum, you discover that the forum is discussing the Neal v Janssen fraud and breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit. Rat King gives the following information:

“He has not paid any of the $500,000 judgment which was first rendered by the Federal 9th District court, then upheld by the 6th Circuit, the second highest court in the US. The US Marshals did not depose him but rather delivered a Notice of Deposition, Request for Production of Documents and Interrogatories, as well as collect any cash, jewelry, personal property on his person. Today, the amount of monies owed is in excess of $900,000 given 10 years of interest. He was deposed the following day in Lexington. His home in FL was transfered to his then-girlfriend (with whom he has a child) one day before the emergency order was registered in FL in the year 2000. “ -- http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?t=275772&page=2

I sent a message to Rat King on October 11, asking where he got his information, but haven't received a reply yet. Since the writer of the Eurodressage.com article mentions talking with Tyrone Neal, brother to one of the plaintiffs in the fraud case, right before giving the link to the Rat King post, I can't help but wonder if Rat King is Tyrone Neal.

Other than the above sources, I did find a few mentions of Sjef Janssen's fraud case in various online horse forums, and I also found a website for Equine Legal Solutions that mentions Janssen's fraud case in a post about:

Secret Profit-Taking: The Truth about Horse Sale Commissions

However, I cannot find any online NEWS articles about the Neal v Janssen fraud case. Not one. Not even in online dressage journals. (Even the Eurodressage.com article doesn't mention Janssen's name. Of course, considering Astrid Appels' lawsuit history with Sjef Janssen and Anky van Grunsven, I suppose her reticence is not surprising.) And other than the very brief and nameless mention of the incident in the Eurodressage.com article, I couldn't find any mention of the fact that US Marshals had to interrupt a dressage warm up during WEG 2010 to serve a notice of deposition to Dutch dressage team trainer Sjef Jannsen.

So... why has no other journalist reported on this Sjef Janssen fraud case and the, admittedly minor but still noteworthy, disruption it caused at WEG 2010? He is such a popular and controversial figure in the dressage world. Articles, both positive and negative, are written about him all the time. You would think that some professional journalist would want to report on Janssen being found liable for fraud to the the tune of $500,000. Even if $500,000 doesn't mean much to the ultra wealthy who inhabit the upper echelons of the dressage world, it still shows the dishonesty (and disregard for the US legal system) of someone that many people consider a “leading figure” in dressage. And it's not like the fraud case is unrelated to Janssen's work in dressage. It's about misrepresenting the sale price of a dressage horse. Where is the journalistic interest in this act of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty on the part of one of the most talked about individuals in the dressage world?

I suppose the professional journalists are all scared of being sued. Whatever happened to freedom of the press?

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