Chevron’s Disappearing Witnesses: RICO Trial Mystery?

There’s a new post up on the Chevron Pit blog detailing the numerous witnesses that Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro touted in the lead-up to its RICO trial, only to scratch them off the list once the trial was under way.

The post opens with two witnesses that Mastro promised would be devastating to Donziger and the Ecuadorians, Douglas Beltman and Ann Maest. Former scientific consultants for the rainforest indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador, Beltman and Maest helped the communities win their historic multi-billion dollar judgment against the oil giant in Ecuador’s courts.

From the post:

Several months ago, desperate to evade a court order that it clean up its toxic mess, Chevron launched a public relations offensive in the U.S. that claimed Beltman and Maest had “disavowed” their work for the communities harmed by Chevron’s pollution.  In opening arguments in the RICO case in October, Chevron lawyer Randy Mastro touted Beltman and Maest as key witnesses against New York human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, the company’s principal target.

So why did Mastro and his team of 114 lawyers at Gibson Dunn decide to bail on Beltman and Maest?  And what does the sudden disappearance of these witnesses tell us about the validity of Chevron’s RICO case?

Mastro knew that under cross-examination Beltman and Maest almost certainly would have delivered damning testimony against Chevron.   As far as the case is concerned, Chevron’s failure to call these witnesses underscores yet again how weak the company’s evidence is — which is why Chevron dropped damages claims on the eve of trial to avoid a jury of impartial fact finders.

…The reality is that Beltman never changed his opinion that Chevron is responsible for massive and life-threatening toxic contamination in Ecuador.  Read this blog for more on the back story of Chevron’s campaign of economic extortion to silence witnesses.  Citing this evidence, 60 Minutes flat out refused Chevron’s bogus demand that it issue a “correction” to the original story.

In exchange for Beltman’s affidavit — clearly written by Chevron lawyers — Chevron dropped Beltman and Stratus as defendants in the RICO action. At the same time, Stratus agreed to drop a lawsuit against Chevron where the consultancy had accused the oil giant of engaging in a “an extrajudicial campaign of malicious defamation.”  Read the Stratus lawsuit to get a sense of how vicious Chevron’s strategy had become.

The Chevron Pit post looks at several other witnesses, settling on one witness, disgraced judge and admitted criminal Alberto Guerra, who the company had to bring to the stand after essentially saying that its case hinged on his testimony:

Under cross-examination, Guerra wilted.  He admitted he was a criminal who had fixed dozens of cases and that Chevron was paying him (in violation of federal law) vast sums of money for favorable testimony.  Guerra’s show trial performance was a hilarious illustration of just how weak Chevron’s case really is.  Read pp. 31-41 of this post-trial brief to understand how Guerra’s testimony is riddled with lies, inconsistencies, and constantly changing stories.

The post goes on to conclude:

Chevron has played a cynical game of carrot & stick, manipulating witnesses with exorbitant payments (Guerra) or ferocious personal and economic pressure (Beltman and Maest).  Team Mastro and the Lords running Chevron would never get away with it if the case were before a judge who wasn’t clearly biased against the Ecuadorians and Donziger.

All of Chevron’s testigos desaparecidos were people that the oil giant could not manipulate enough, compensate enough, or intimidate enough to be sufficiently complicit with its vicious intimidation campaign against the rainforest communities.  And while the oil giant can apparently make witnesses lie, flip, or simply vanish, nothing can make the company’s responsibility for suffering in Ecuador disappear.

Read the entire post on the Chevron Pit blog.