Leon Black drops racketeering claims against law firm Wigdor

4 minute read

Leon Black, Chairman, CEO and Director, Apollo Global Management, LLC, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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Billionaire investor Leon Black has dropped the Wigdor law firm as a defendant against civil racketeering claims in his lawsuit against a former model who accused him of rape, and dropped the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan after it identified a potential conflict.

The changes were disclosed in Black's amended complaint filed on Monday night in Manhattan federal court against Guzel Ganieva, with whom the former Apollo Global Management Inc chief executive has admitted to having had a consensual 6-1/2-year relationship, and the Wigdor firm.

Black also added as defendants Apollo co-founder Josh Harris, whom he accused of helping spread Ganieva's "lies" in a plot to oust him from the private equity firm, and Steven Rubenstein, a public relations executive whom Black accused of aiding Harris' efforts.

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The amended complaint accused both men of engaging in an illegal civil racketeering conspiracy with Ganieva, and all three plus the Wigdor firm of defamation.

Black has forcefully denied Ganieva's rape and sexual abuse claims, and accused her of extortion. He sued Ganieva last Oct. 28, four months after she sued him in a New York state court for alleged defamation and sexual violence.

Jeanne Christensen, a lawyer for Ganieva at Wigdor , in a statement on Tuesday questioned why Quinn Emanuel was exiting two weeks after the Wigdor firm had asked the presiding judge to impose sanctions, and why Black "suddenly" dropped the racketeering claim against the Wigdor firm.

"The legal community should be outraged at such a knowing perversion of our legal system," Christensen said.

According to court records, Quinn Emanuel obtained the presiding judge's permission to withdraw after partner John Quinn said the firm had identified a "potential conflict of interest" that might implicate issues of privilege.

Black consented to the withdrawal.

In a separate filing opposing what he called a "baseless" sanctions motion, Black called his complaint "a reasonable response to extortion and defamation."

But he said that in light of "recent motion practice" and the complexity of suing law firms for racketeering, his grievances against Wigdor could be addressed "more directly" through a defamation claim.

Representatives for Harris and Rubenstein have denied Black's claims against their respective clients, and said neither man had relationships or dealings with Ganieva.

"While the amended complaint made for an interesting read, it changes nothing: these allegations are desperate and completely false," Harris' spokesman Jonathan Rosen said in a statement on Tuesday.

Evan Farber of Loeb & Loeb, who represents Rubenstein, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday after business hours.

Ganieva is represented separately in the federal case by Kevin Mintzer of the Law Office of Kevin Mintzer, while the Wigdor firm is represented there by Janice DiGennaro and Max Gershenoff of Rivkin Radler.

No lawyer for Harris has yet appeared in the federal case.

Black's amended complaint was submitted by Susan Estrich of the law firm Estrich Goldin.

In early 2021, Black stepped down as Apollo's chairman and chief executive after an outside independent review found he had paid the late financier Jeffrey Epstein $158 million for tax and estate planning, though he was not involved in Epstein's criminal activities.

Black has publicly regretted his involvement with Epstein.

The case is Black v. Ganieva, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 21-08824.

For Black: Susan Estrich of Estrich Goldin

For Ganieva: Kevin Mintzer of the Law Office of Kevin Mintzer

For Wigdor: Janice DiGennaro and Max Gershenoff of Rivkin Radler

For Harris: Not known

For Rubenstein: Evan Farber of Loeb & Loeb

(NOTE: This story has been updated with Black's explanation for dropping racketeering claims and Quinn Emanuel's explanation for withdrawing from the lawsuit.)

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