A lawsuit accusing Pitkin County property owner and billionaire William Koch of imprisoning one his employees has been transferred to the U.S. District Court in Denver.
Berkeley, Calif., resident Kirby Martensen, a former executive at the Oxbow Group, an energy company controlled by Koch, originally sued Koch in the Northern District of California in October. The Oxbow Carbon division is the world’s largest distributor of petroleum coke. As of March 2012, Forbes estimated Koch’s net worth to be $4 billion.
Earlier this month, a federal judge approved Koch’s request to transfer the case to Colorado. The thrust of Koch’s argument was that most of the alleged events took place in Colorado, so that’s where the case should be handled. In her Sept. 4 ruling to move the case to Colorado, Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley agreed with the venue change and also noted that testimony by Martensen has “weakened” his kidnapping accusations.
Martensen’s suit alleges that Koch, whose Castle Creek Road estate is the former location of the Elk Mountain Lodge, invited him to Koch’s Bear Ranch near Somerset, about 70 miles from Aspen, for a two-day meeting in March 2012. Martensen flew from San Francisco to Aspen, where Koch met him on March 21.
Martensen spent the night at the ranch, and after breakfast the next morning, Koch took Martensen and others on a tour of another one of his properties, which includes some 50 buildings designed to replicate a late-19th-century Western town.
After the tour, two of Koch’s agents interrogated Martensen in a room and “accused Martensen of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud Oxbow and Koch of hundreds of millions of dollars, accepting bribes from competitors and diverting freight to a known competitor,” the lawsuit alleges.
After the interrogation, Koch’s agents escorted him to an SUV, served him with termination papers and told Martensen he would be taken to Aspen, the suit claims. But first, Martensen had to wait in a cabin for three hours and was warned that a sheriff’s deputy was on the site to make sure he didn’t leave, the suit says.
While Martensen thought he would be taken to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, he instead was taken to Denver against his will, the suit says.
“As a result Koch’s agents, on behalf of Koch, continued to hold Martensen against his will thereby kidnapping and (keeping) him captive in the vehicle during the trip to Denver,” the suit alleges.
He was then taken to a private jet at a private airport in Denver and later was flown to Oakland, Calif., landing there at 4 a.m., the suit says.
An agent told Martensen he then would be taken to a nearby Courtyard by Marriott hotel, but he declined and took a cab, the suit says.
“A cab arrived and Martensen left Oakland Airport thereby ending his captivity by Koch’s agents,” the lawsuit says.
Martensen claims that he was interrogated and fired because Oxbow had learned that he suspected the company was engaged in a scheme to dodge paying $200 million in federal taxes with its Asian trading business.
“Koch promoted and implemented a plan to intimidate and discredit Martensen for the purpose of chilling his speech and damaging his credibility,” the complaint alleges.
Koch has denied the allegations in subsequent court filings, and Corley noted in an order dated Sept. 3that a May deposition with Martensen discredits his kidnapping allegations.
That’s partly because Koch’s alleged agents, while taking Martensen to Denver, stopped at the 7-Eleven in Carbondale, let him out of the SUV and permitted him to enter the store. Because Martensen was allowed to go in the store, he could have made a cellphone call to 911 or even fled. During the deposition, Martensen explained that he thought he was under arrest.
“I’m not going to resist,” he said. “That’s not me. I want this — I want to be the most compliant, acquiescent, nicest guy so that I’m well-treated and, hopefully, this all gets straightened out.”
“So nobody was forcing you to remain with them at that time, but you decided, on your own, that you wanted to remain with them in the hopes of trying to work it out at the end of the day?” a Koch attorney asked Martensen.
“Yes, that is what I believed,” Martensen said.
Corley’s order to transfer the case to Colorado included part of the transcript of the deposition.
“Contrary to (Martensen’s) allegations, ... (Martensen) testified that (Koch’s) agents did not escort (Martensen) to the plane,” Corley wrote. “(Martensen) also testified that he was not ordered onto the plane in Denver. Nor was (Martensen) intimidated into getting onto the plane. ... This new evidence weakens (Martensen’s) claim of false imprisonment.”
In addition to the false-imprisonment claim, Martensen’s suit also alleges separate causes of civil conspiracy and conspiracy.
The next hearing in the case is set for Oct. 23. The case has been assigned to Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer, court records show.
“As a result Koch’s agents, on behalf of Koch, continued to hold Martensen against his will thereby kidnapping and (keeping) him captive in the vehicle during the trip to Denver.”