Suit: Pablo Escobar name belongs with family, not Aspen companies

The family of Pablo Escobar is taking an Aspen businessman to court over using the drug lord's name on such products as Escobar Vodka.

Pablo Escobar’s family company has leveled a $5 million federal lawsuit against a trio of Aspen businesses named after Colombia’s “King of Cocaine.”

Escobar Inc., which was founded by the late drug lord’s brother Roberto, is suing Ryan Chadwick and three limited liability companies he controls: Barwest Group, which does business as the Escobar Aspen nightclub downtown; Escobar Spirits, which sells Escobar Vodka; and Escobar Aspen. The suit was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Denver.

“We are the official holding company that manages the rights of both Pablo Escobar, and we do have some issues with the bar and Ryan Chadwick,” Olof Gustafsson, CEO of Escobar Inc., said Monday in a phone interview.

Escobar Inc. is incorporated in Puerto Rico and keeps its headquarters in Beverly Hills, California. According to the company website, Roberto Escobar worked as the accountant and chief of assassination for his brother’s notorious Medellín Cartel, which operated from 1972 to ’93.

“We don’t like going to court but the reality of the situation is we own the Pablo Escobar name and nobody else can use it,” Gustafsson said. “And it’s going to be pretty hard for them to prove that they can use it in a court of law.”

Contacted Tuesday, Chadwick said Escobar Inc. has a questionable business history and he has no plans to stop using the Escobar name despite the court action.

“We’re going to protect what is ours and what we started 10 years ago,” he said. “And all I have to say is, ‘Look at Escobar Inc. and the people who are behind it.’”

Escobar Inc. also has petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Chadwick’s use of the name. Filed April 30, the petition said Escobar Inc. is involved in the sale of Escobar products including cellphones, hookahs, cologne and toys.

Chadwick’s products, such as its Escobar Vodka, T-shirts and related products, are creating confusion in the marketplace, Escobar Inc. argued.

“Alcoholic beverages are a natural area of expansion for Petitioner’s brand,” the petition said. “In fact, Petitioner is in discussions with a French company to license the Pablo Escobar name for alcoholic beverages, who would also sell in the United States.”

That’s the chief point of contention, Chadwick said.

“They want to sell vodka and they want to sell spirits, and they’re saying they can’t do it because I have a trademark on it, so they’re asking us to cancel our trademark,” he said.

Escobar Inc. also has argued that its trademark on PABLO ESCOBAR (the name is used in all caps in filings) trumps Chadwick’s intellectual property for authorized name use.

Chadwick’s legal team responded with a counterclaim against Escobar Inc. on June 10, saying his licensed Escobar intellectual property dates back to 2012, while Escobar Inc.’s goes to 2016 and was filed under false pretenses.

“I feel confident about this,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick said he was unaware of the filing of the lawsuit, which accused him of tarnishing and diluting the Escobar name.

“Plaintiff has requested Defendants on several occasions to cease and desist the use of Pablo Escobar’s name, identity and likeness for their commercial advantage,” the lawsuit said. “However, Defendants have failed to cease and desist and continue to benefit from the use of Pablo Escobar’s name, identity and likeness.”

Pablo Escobar was ranked by Forbes as one the world’s richest people with a net worth of $30 billion, and his cartel also was responsible for more than 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the U.S. at one time. He was 44 when he died in December 1993 as a result of a shootout with Colombian authorities.

“Escobar was responsible for the killing of thousands of people, including politicians, civil servants, journalists and ordinary citizens,” said

The suit, however, portrayed Escobar as a legendary and revered figure.

“Pablo Escobar is regarded as one the greatest heroic outlaws of all time by many in Colombia and all over the world,” the suit says. “Moreover, Escobar’s life has been the subject of numerous books, films and television shows. Throughout his life, Escobar was responsible for the construction of houses and football fields in western Colombia for the poor.”

The point being, the suit contended, “the Escobar names have come to identify (Escobar Inc.) exclusively and uniquely and represents enormous goodwill,” while Chadwick’s companies have operated with “the intent to trade off of the significant reputation of Pablo Escobar and of the goodwill symbolized by his name and image.”

Ontario, California, attorney Gurjit Sing is listed at the attorney of record for Escobar Inc. in its litigation with Chadwick, whose counsel is Sabrina Stavish of Denver.

Examples of Escobar Inc. litigation elsewhere include a lawsuit against rap artist 2 Chainz for selling Escobar Crab Cakes at his restaurants and a $2.6 billion lawsuit against Apple. That suit alleges that Apple’s inadequate iPhone security enabled hackers to find his address and threaten him. Escobar Inc. also sells refurbished, gold-plated iPhones in direct competition with Apple.