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Friday, March 01, 2013

Vulcan CEO tried to smuggle giraffe bones out of Africa


Bodyguards: Vulcan CEO Allen tried to smuggle bones out of Africa

Claims of sexual harassment, criminal activity persist as Vulcan security team lawsuits continue

Luggage packed with giraffe bones could mean trouble for Vulcan CEO Jody Allen and her brother -- Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner Paul Allen -- as lawsuits filed by the siblings’ bodyguards proceed.
The allegation – that Jody Allen tried to sneak home the bones while on safari in Botswana – is the most concrete claim made so far by a group of former Vulcan Inc. bodyguards who’ve sued both Allens and their firm, which was founded by Paul Allen, who remains the company's chairman. But the giraffe’s bones may turn out to be the smallest skeleton tucked in the Allen family closet.
Silenced by court orders and confidentiality agreements, the former members of the Allens’ personal security detail have made vague claims that the Allens were involved in criminal activity and bribery, and that Jody Allen sexually harassed security officers. They also claim other Vulcan executives turned a blind eye or worse to the behavior.
At least five former members of the Allens’ personal security team have sued the siblings and Vulcan. Court documents indicate that 10 other former members of the team have previously settled with Vulcan after closed hearings before a private mediator.
In a series of lawsuits filed in King County Superior Court, the security officers accused Jody Allen of sexually harassing members of the executive protection team. They’ve also claimed she, her brother and others with the firm have committed and covered up crimes, which have yet to be described in detail.
Those alleged crimes may be revealed later this year, when attorneys for two former leaders of the executive protection team – a retired FBI special agent among them – are scheduled to take their cases to a jury. The Allens would be called to testify, as would dozens of current and former Vulcan employees alleged to have witnessed illegal or unethical activities.
Vulcan attorney Harry Schneider described the claims as "meritless" and accused the employees of attempting to wring money out of their former employer.
"These lawsuits were filed 18 months ago because Paul Allen declined to acquiesce when plaintiffs threatened to file their outlandish allegations in court unless they were paid money," Schneider said by email Thursday.
Though the company has fought to push the lawsuits into secret arbitration, Schneider went on to say Vulcan "expects to prevail in court."
Now best known as owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, Paul Allen co-founded Vulcan in 1986 with sister Jody Allen, who serves as the firm’s president as well as its CEO. In the past decade, Vulcan has redeveloped much of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood; the firm recently won a contract to turn the 30-acre Yesler Terrace housing project on First Hill into a $300 million mixed-use development.
A tiny piece of the Allens’ operation, the Vulcan executive protection team is staffed by elite security contractors – SEAL-school trained combat veterans among them – paid to protect Paul and Jody Allen, as well as Jody Allen’s children. Members of the team, which numbered eight to 14 people from 2010 to 2011, accompany the Allens when they travel and provide security for their properties.
In a sworn statement, former team leader and retired FBI special agent Kathy Leodler said the Allens are now trying to hide criminal activity behind confidentiality agreements.
“Let me be clear, I do not accept the assertion that crimes of corporate executives can be covered up by an agreement to protect trade secrets or Allen ‘privacy,’” Leodler said in a declaration to the court.
“In spite of ... ethical rhetoric and interviews of its executives and founder,” she continued, “it is clear that the core of Vulcan is based on extended patterns of executive corruption, a contamination of my workplace caused by criminal conduct, unethical behavior, obstruction of justice and a willingness of many indifferent executives to implicate others in the wrongful actions.”
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