Jeff Bezos has been awarded $218,000 in legal fees after fighting off a defamation suit brought by his girlfriend’s brother. Here’s how the Amazon CEO became embroiled in a tangled web of lawsuits and family drama.

Michael Sanchez Jeff Bezos
Michael Sanchez, left, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

  • Jeff Bezos was awarded $218,000 in legal fees after Michael Sanchez’s unsuccessful defamation suit.
  • Sanchez, the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend, said Bezos falsely accused him of leaking private texts.
  • Last November, a judge threw out the suit, citing a lack of evidence.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jeff Bezos has been awarded $218,000 in legal fees, the latest development in the high-profile legal drama surrounding the Amazon CEO.

What began as a tabloid scoop two years ago revealing the relationship between Bezos and his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, has since resulted in investigations into her brother, Michael, the National Enquirer, and even the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, as well as a protracted legal battle between Michael Sanchez and Bezos.

Here’s where the conflict began and everything that’s happened since.

In January 2019, Bezos and his then wife, MacKenzie, announced they were divorcing.

Jeff Bezos Amazon Oscar After Party
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and writer MacKenzie Bezos, now MacKenzie Scott.

Source: Jeff Bezos/Twitter

Their announcement was followed soon after by bombshell reporting from Page Six and the National Enquirer: Bezos was in a relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a helicopter pilot and former TV anchor.

Jeff Bezos Lauren Sanchez Patrick Whitesell
Jeff Bezos with Lauren Sanchez and her husband Patrick Whitesell.

Source: Page Six

At the time, Sanchez was married to Patrick Whitesell, the co-CEO of WME, a Hollywood talent agency. The couple had been friends with Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos because they had houses near each other in Seattle, according to Page Six.

patrick whitesell lauren sanchez
Patrick Whitesell and Lauren Sanchez.

Source: Page Six

The Enquirer said it had conducted a four-month investigation into the relationship between Bezos and Sanchez, tracking the couple “across five states and 40,000 miles” and tailing them on hikes and dinner dates.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos.

Source: The National Enquirer 

Beyond its own surveillance of Bezos and Sanchez, the Enquirer reported it had acquired “raunchy messages” the couple had sent each other, some of which the tabloid published. The Enquirer also said it had racy photos of both Bezos and Sanchez, including one that was too explicit to describe in print.

Amazon jeff bezos
Jeff Bezos.

Source: The National Enquirer 

Soon after, The Daily Beast reported that Bezos was funding an investigation – headed up by his personal head of security, Gavin de Becker – into who had leaked his private messages to the Enquirer. De Becker said at the time that he thought the leaks were “politically motivated,” which AMI denied.

Gavin de Becker
Gavin de Becker.

Source: The Daily Beast

In February 2019, Bezos responded to the scandal in an explosive blog post, in which he accused National Enquirer publisher AMI and its then CEO, David Pecker, of trying to blackmail him.

david pecker
Then-AMI CEO David Pecker in 2014.

Source: Jeff Bezos/Medium

Bezos wrote that AMI had been threatening him with the publication of explicit pictures he’d taken of himself unless he stopped investigating who leaked his photos and texts to the tabloid. In response, Bezos published the emails he’d received from AMI.

Jeff Bezos Amazon
Jeff Bezos.

Source: Jeff Bezos/Medium

“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos.

Source: Jeff Bezos/Medium

De Becker told The Daily Beast that Michael Sanchez was “among the people we’ve been speaking with and looking at” during the investigation and that “strong leads point to political motives” for leaking information to the Enquirer.

Michael Sanchez
Michael Sanchez.

Source: The Daily Beast

Sanchez had described himself as a supporter of President Donald Trump, who had a longtime ally in Pecker. De Becker told the Washington Post in February 2019 that he thought the Enquirer had published its scoop about Bezos and Sanchez in order to embarrass Bezos, and that members of Trump’s 2016 campaign were involved.

david pecker 2012
David Pecker in 2012.

Source: The Washington Post

A feud has simmered for years between Trump and Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. Trump has made the Post a target over the years and has lumped together Amazon and the Post as a way to cast doubt on the paper’s credibility.

jeff bezos donald trump
Jeff Bezos and President Donald Trump.

Source: The Washington Post

For his part, Sanchez denied de Becker’s allegation, accusing him of telling “lies, half-truths, sloppy tabloid leaks, [and] crazy conspiracy theories” in a statement to the Washington Post. He told Fox News that “all of the investigations thus far have cleared me of any involvement in the below-the-belt selfies.”

Michael Sanchez
Michael Sanchez.

Source: The Washington Post, Business Insider

Sanchez told Business Insider that he did not leak Bezos’ “penis photos” to the Enquirer, but did not specifically deny leaking text messages between his sister and Bezos. “I’m not saying I didn’t do something,” he later told Vanity Fair, but said his only goal was to protect his sister and Bezos’ relationship.

Jeff Bezos Lauren Sanchez
Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos.

Source: Business Insider, Vanity Fair

Sanchez had worked as a Hollywood talent manager, and he told Fox News that Bezos had asked him for help handling the scandal around his divorce. “He said that he didn’t think the Amazon PR team was equipped to handle this kind of story,” Sanchez said of Bezos.

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos addresses the audience during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019.
Jeff Bezos.

Source: Business Insider

In March 2019, de Becker wrote in The Daily Beast that he believed the Saudi Arabian government had hacked Bezos’ phone in order to gain access to his private messages in retaliation for the Post reporting Saudi agents killed Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Jeff Bezos Jamal Khashoggi memorial
Jeff Bezos attends the opening ceremony for a monument for journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Source: The Daily Beast

In January 2020, that assertion was backed up by reports by the Guardian and United Nations investigators, who said they had “reasonable certainty” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in a hack of Bezos’ iPhone.

mohammad bin salman jeff bezos
Mohammed bin Salman and Jeff Bezos.

Source: Business Insider

Throughout it all, AMI has insisted that Michael Sanchez is the single source behind its reporting on Lauren Sanchez’s relationship with Bezos. According to a New York Times report from January, Lauren Sanchez shared the texts and photos with her brother, who then licensed them to the Enquirer for $200,000 in October 2018.

Jeff Bezos Lauren Sanchez
Lauren Sanchez and Jeff Bezos.

Source: The New York Times

In February, Michael Sanchez filed a defamation lawsuit against Bezos that claims Bezos and de Becker falsely accused him of providing the nude photos to the Enquirer. Sanchez claimed in the suit that Bezos told journalists he had handed over the images to the tabloid, but Sanchez said he never had the photos in his possession.

michael sanchez bezos 4x3

Source: Business Insider

Following the lawsuit filing, Lauren Sanchez said in a statement to TMZ that her brother “secretly provided my most personal information to the National Enquirer – a deep and unforgivable betrayal. My family is hurting over this new baseless and untrue lawsuit, and we truly hope my brother finds peace.”

Lauren Sanchez

Source: TMZ

In the lawsuit, Sanchez used the word “fiancé” to describe Bezos’ relationship to Lauren Sanchez, implying that the couple is engaged.

jeff bezos lauren sanchez
Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez outside the Taj Mahal in January.

Source: Business Insider

Bezos quickly filed a motion to dismiss the suit under a California law that’s intended to protect against frivolous lawsuits. Bezos said Sanchez’s suit amounted to “extortion” and directly threatened free speech.

Jeff Bezos

Source: Business Insider

In November 2020, Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled in favor of Bezos, striking down Sanchez’s defamation suit. “Here, there is no admissible evidence that Defendants published the subject statements. Plaintiff’s declaration merely discusses what he was told by reporters, which is inadmissible hearsay,” Judge John P. Doyle wrote in his ruling.

Jeff Bezos

“We respectfully disagree with the trial court’s ruling and look forward to vindicating Mr. Sanchez’s claims on appeal,” Tom Warren, Sanchez’s attorney, told Insider in an emailed statement at the time. 

William Isaacson, an attorney representing Bezos and de Becker, said in an emailed statement to Insider that “journalists will surely take the Court’s ruling into account when considering Michael Sanchez as a source.”

“My clients are pleased that the judge has thrown out the baseless case filed by Michael Sanchez,” Isaacson said. “When it comes to frivolous lawsuits seeking money or attention, the law is clear — and the law worked.”

Source: Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles

In January, Bezos filed a motion to compel Sanchez to cover $1.7 million in legal fees following his unsuccessful suit.

jeff bezos lauren sanchez anna wintour fashion
Sanchez and Bezos at the Tom Ford runway show in February 2020.

Bezos and de Becker requested that Sanchez reimburse them for $1,676,919.50 in attorney fees and $36,019.26 in other costs they racked up while defending the suit.

Tom Warren, an attorney for Sanchez, told Insider in a statement that “Mr. Bezos’ fee request is obscene, even grotesque, on many levels.”

Source: Business Insider

The court ruled in March that Bezos would be awarded money to cover the fees, but only a small portion of what he originally requested: $218,385, plus an additional $36,000 in legal costs.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos.

The judge ruled that the amount of hours billed (more than 2,070) and the number of lawyers put on the case was “not reasonable,” according to Bloomberg

“This was not a matter that required seven partners and 11 associates,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John Doyle said. 

Source: Business Insider

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