As a jury in Connecticut Wednesday announced damages totaling nearly $1 billion against conspiracy theory-spreader Alex Jones, the far-right personality proclaimed his poverty.
“Ain’t going to be happening, ain’t no money,” Jones asserted on his livestream.
Few believe that, of course. One expert testified in an earlier trial that Jones and his companies were worth between $130 million and $270 million. Still, Jones and his lawyers have taken extraordinary steps in an apparent effort to obfuscate the amount — and location — of his wealth, leading many to wonder if the plaintiffs in the Sandy Hook defamation cases will ever see even a fraction of the judgment they fought for years to win in court, assuming it holds after post-trial motions and appeals.
A game of “cat and mouse”
The families could collect Jones’ current assets and future earnings, as long as they’re willing to pay attorneys to chase down and untangle his financial dealings, financial dispute 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 plodding and slow, but the statutory tools are in place to ensure that a judgment creditor can find what’s out there.”
The family’s attorneys seem plenty willing to try.
“We are going to chase Alex Jones to the ends of the earth,” Joshua Koskoff, an attorney representing the Sandy Hook families, told MSNBC.
Some assets would seem easy to spot. For instance, Jones owns five houses in the Austin, Texas, area worth a combined $7.5 million, Forbes reported. Early this year, as the defamation trials neared, Jones transferred one of these homes, with an estimated worth of over $3.5 million, to his wife, Erika Wulff Jones, according to reporting by the New York Post.
But Jones has tied up much of his wealth in a complex knot of entities, financial transactions and bankruptcy proceedings. Jones’ primary corporate entity, Free Speech Systems, declared bankruptcy in July, a move widely interpreted as an effort to frustrate efforts to collect legal judgments against him. Also, Jones and his relatives have set up an “alphabet soup of holding companies,” some of which appear to exist only on paper, with opaque purposes. The families claim Jones has used the entities to shuffle money around and mask his true wealth.
As well, Jones has reportedly moved millions into a family trust and repeatedly refused to comply with court-ordered discovery about the transactions, further complicating efforts to understand his financial status.
Jones’ bankruptcy mess
Until bankruptcy proceedings for Free Speech Systems are sorted out, assets connected to Jones or his companies will be virtually untouchable by the families. But those companies and their financial activities will come under increased scrutiny by the families’ attorneys and investigators.
“He’s going to have to maintain his lifestyle, and in order to do that, you have to have access to money,” said Christopher Weil, managing partner at Mintz Group, an investigative firm that specializes in global asset tracking. “That’s the interesting piece here — paying attention to what he does and what kinds of fingerprints he leaves.”
“You’ll find the assets, even if it’s a painstaking process,” said Berger. “Whenever you have a high-profile judgment debtor who is very well known, there are likely to be both public sources of information and people who may be willing to talk, all of which can be very helpful to investigators.”
Weil concurred. “A lot of people will probably be willing to speak, it’s just about finding them.”
The historic judgment against Jones is the result of Jones’ years of claims that the shooting was a “false flag.” Regardless of the amounts Jones ultimately pays out, experts agreed the judgment will likely follow Jones and his businesses for the rest of his life.
How do you hide a fortune?
Bankruptcy Judge Christopher M. Lopez has 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 Free Speech Systems bankruptcy demanded information from several of the companies controlled by Jones and his family members; from Jones’ father, David Jones; from a company controlled by his sister, Marleigh Jones Rivera; and from Jones’ personal trainer and associate Patrick Riley.
Riley has come under recent scrutiny in the case because of a $400,000 payment and transfer of warehouse operations to his company, Blue Asension [sic] Logistics. The trustee’s subpoena came in response to the court directing them to investigate Free Speech Systems’ books.
Jones and his attorney, Norman Pattis, did not respond to a request for comment, but Jones has denied the fraud allegations to other publications. Jones and his attorneys have claimed there is nothing unusual about the companies he has set up and that any recent transfers of money were for Jones’ estate planning.
Future earnings may be fair game
Sensing opportunity, Jones used the verdict as an opportunity to shake his proverbial tin cup at his online followers, promising them their donations were shielded from paying out his awards.
“The money you donate does not go to these people, it goes to fight this fraud, and it goes to stabilize the company,” Jones said on his show Wednesday as the judgments against him were read aloud. As of Monday, Jones’ donation page had over $230,000 donations, with more flowing every couple of minutes.
Not so fast, said lawyers with whom Grid spoke.
The Sandy Hook families may be entitled to future earnings of Free Speech Systems. There’s a catch: Pursuing future earnings could tie the size of their payouts to the success of the InfoWars empire. The families may not find that 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 bankruptcy case in Texas.
“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 up against this travesty, against the billions of dollars they want. It’s a joke,” Jones told his audience last Wednesday.
Perhaps, say experts. But keeping that strategy going can be harder than it sounds.
“It’s very easy to build complex structures. It’s very hard to maintain them,” explained Weil of the Mintz Group. “What we find is that the people who have helped maintain these things have to be paid. They have to be induced to continue to operate the [businesses]. If money is drying up, if there’s a big award out there, that will cause problems,” Weil said. “People’s professional and personal interests won’t align anymore.”
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.