By Frank Bajak and Jeanneth Valdivieso, Associated Press
29 October 2009
Quito, Ecuador – One of two men who made clandestine video recordings allegedly showing government bias and kickback-soliciting in a $27 billion oil contamination lawsuit is a convicted felon with a history of legal troubles, The Associated Press has learned.
An AP investigation also has found no evidence that Wayne Douglas Hansen worked in his professed field of environmental remediation.
Court records show that Hansen, 62, pleaded guilty to charges of facilitating the importation of marijuana in a 1987 case in Brownsville, Texas. A co-defendant said that Hansen was in charge of buying a DC-7 that prosecutors alleged would be used to fly 275,000 pounds (124,740 kilos) of marijuana to the United States from Colombia.
Hansen, a U.S. citizen who served 19 months in federal prison in that case, also lost civil lawsuits charging him with unleashing two pitbulls on a neighbor and her golden retriever, and with tearing up the walls of another person's house with a jackhammer, according to California county court records and the plaintiffs.
Hansen, a Bakersfield, California, resident, did not return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment on his legal history.
Hansen and Diego Borja, an Ecuadorean man who has done technical contract work for the contamination lawsuit's defendant, Chevron Corp., videotaped a judge who is heard to say "yes" at one point when asked repeatedly whether he planned to rule against Chevron.
The men also taped an Ecuadorean man who Borja believed to be tied to the country's ruling party. The person told them they would be awarded a contract to clean up a contaminated site if they paid $3 million.
Chevron released the videotapes on Aug. 31, calling them evidence of "serious judicial misconduct and political influence" in the case. The San Ramon, California, oil company says the recordings prove it cannot get a fair trial in Ecuador and that the lawsuit over contamination in the Amazon rain forest should be dismissed.
The judge, Juan Evangelista Nunez, has insisted that the video in which he is heard was "edited and manipulated" and that he agreed to meet Hansen and Borja as a favor to a friend to explain the lawsuit.
Nonetheless, Nunez was allowed to recuse himself, effectively prolonging the case by months to allow a new judge to get up to speed.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who say they represent about 30,000 inhabitants of the region, claim a consortium operated by Texaco from 1972-1990 contaminated much of a Rhode Island-sized oil patch in the Amazon, causing elevated cancer rates. They are seeking damages for cleanup and to compensate for illnesses.
Chevron bought Texaco in 2001. The company says a 1998 agreement Texaco signed with Ecuador's government following a $40 million cleanup frees Chevron of liability. It calls the cancer claims unfounded.
Hansen and Borja used spy cameras embedded in a watch and pen to make the videotapes during four meetings in May and June. In them, Hansen is introduced as an American groundwater remediation executive with extensive international experience. In one of them, Borja says Hansen's company has "an exclusive franchise for Honeywell for water treatment plants."
A Honeywell International Inc. spokesman, Jake Saylor, called the claim untrue in a telephone interview from Phoenix, Arizona.
Hansen refused to respond when asked the name of his purported company in a brief telephone interview with the AP on Oct. 15.
In that interview and in another brief conversation Wednesday, Hansen told the AP that he had water-treatment projects in Mexico and Ecuador. He also claimed he was going to build a golf course in Ecuador. But when an AP reporter questioned those claims, he hung up.
When Chevron released the videotapes in August, the company described Hansen as "an American businessman." It also said it would pay for any "reasonable" legal fees Hansen might incur related to the recordings.
On Wednesday, Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson said that the company "is not associated" with Hansen and was "not in a position to speak to Mr. Hansen's past."
"Nor can we confirm that what you have represented (about him) is accurate," he said.
Robertson said Hansen has received no remuneration from the company though it has "offered to pay for reasonable security needs resulting from the disclosure of the recordings."
Chevron has never denied its relationship to Borja, who did technical contract work for the company. Earlier this week, in response to questions from Ecuador's government, the company released documents in which it said it is committed to finding both Borja and his wife "suitable employment." The company also had said it paid to fly Borja and his wife to the United States in late June for their protection.
In his brief interviews with the AP, Hansen did not address the plaintiffs' claims that the videotape operation was a "sting" likely cooked up by Chevron in order to try to get the 16-year-old case dismissed.
Chevron has insisted it had no prior knowledge of the men's meetings - either with the judge or the Ecuadorean man with alleged ties to the ruling party. In its answers to Ecuador's questions, the company reiterated that it "did not initiate or participate in the meetings and had no advance knowledge that they would occur."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they believe Chevron did know.
"We want to see the United States Department of Justice devote the resources necessary to get to the bottom of this and Chevron's role in creating it," said one of the lawyers, Steven Donziger.
The Justice Department has refused to comment on whether it is investigating Hansen, Borja or Chevron for possible violations of laws including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Chevron has said it reported the entire episode to the department in August.
On Wednesday, the company expressed concern that little has been done to investigate the alleged extortion scheme.
"It seems strange that we haven't seen much interest from the government to investigate the acts seen in the videos, the corruption placed in evidence in the videos," said Chevron spokesman James Craig.
Although little is known about Hansen's employment history, court records show a litany of legal troubles that have alienated and angered his neighbors in California.
In one case, a court ordered him to pay $5,000 to a neighbor who said Hansen unleashed two pit bulls on her and her golden retriever in 2006, badly mauling her pet. The plaintiff, Kresse Armour, said Hansen never paid, removing his mailbox from the curb in order to frustrate attempts to deliver legal orders to him.
In another case, a court in September 1998 ordered Hansen to pay a couple $8,846 for tearing up the inside of their home with a jackhammer in the late 1990s with the apparent intent of creating an assisted-living facility. The plaintiff, Marvin Rohlfing, said he only was able to collect about $1,000.
Bajak reported from Bogota. Associated Press researcher Randy Herschaft from New York and Associated Press Writer Christopher Sherman from Brownsville, Texas, contributed to this report.