News Column

Blackwater Founder Battles Associate Over Memoirs

July 23, 2013

Bill Sizemore

The founder of Blackwater has hit a bump in the road en route to publishing his autobiography.

Erik Prince, the ex-Navy SEAL whose private military company collected billions of federal dollars for its security work in Iraq and Afghanistan, has accused a former business associate of stealing his manuscript and threatening to publish it on the Internet, jeopardizing Prince's $2 million book deal.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Prince alleges that Robert Young Pelton obtained the manuscript by deceit and threatened to distribute it without authorization if Prince "did not pay Pelton's extortionate and unjustified demands."

The lawsuit pits two swashbuckling figures in what could become a nasty scrap for some of the spoils from Blackwater's checkered past.

Prince, 44, turned out thousands of security operatives from Blackwater's 7,000-acre compound in Moyock, N.C. -- a number of whom incurred criminal charges in the deaths of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.

Five of the company's top executives were indicted on federal firearms charges, and the company paid a $42 million fine for violating arms export laws.

Prince himself was never charged. He sold the company in 2010 and moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The company, now based in Northern Virginia, changed its name to Academi. Prince retained rights to the Blackwater name.

Pelton, 57, is a globetrotting adventure writer whose books include "The World's Most Dangerous Places" and "Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror." His latest is "Roll Hard," a graphic novel about a team of gunslinging Blackwater operatives muscling their way around the streets of Baghdad.

In 2011, Prince licensed the Blackwater name to Pelton's California-based tactical gear company, DPx Gear, which marketed an array of merchandise sporting Blackwater's distinctive bear-paw logo -- everything from T-shirts and gym bags to folding knives and armored briefcases.

The two came to a parting of the ways in March when, according to the lawsuit, Prince confronted Pelton at a meeting in Vienna, Austria, with a financial audit showing that Pelton had mismanaged the operation.

On July 8, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House, announced that it would publish Prince's memoirs. His aim in writing the book, Prince said in a news release, was to correct the unfair depiction of private military contractors as "profiteers, 'jackbooted thugs,' or worse by the media and the political establishment."

In the lawsuit, Prince says he wrote the book in collaboration with Davin Coburn, a freelance writer recommended by Pelton, and has a $2 million contract with Portfolio. Pelton "did not write or otherwise create any portion" of the book, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Pelton wheedled a copy from Coburn under false pretenses and threatened to post it on the Internet, which "would substantially compromise, if not completely destroy, the value of Mr. Prince's manuscript."

Moreover, Prince alleges, the manuscript has not yet been fully vetted by the CIA and, in its current form, contains material that the agency says is classified.

The lawsuit accuses Pelton of copyright infringement and seeks an injunction prohibiting him from distributing the book.

Pelton said in an interview Friday that he had a substantial editorial role in the book and that Prince owes him around $1 million for that and other services.

Before he got involved in the project, Pelton said, Prince's manuscript was just "a bunch of whiny right-wing rants and somebody-stole-my-lunch-money stories."

When Prince failed to pay him for his work on the book, Pelton said, he told Prince: "I'll just publish it online as proof of performance."

At that point, he said, Prince "flipped out."

Now, Pelton said, he plans to sue Prince to collect what he is owed.

According to Prince's lawsuit, he is now a resident of Chesterfield County, Va. His attorneys declined to comment.

Bill Sizemore, 757-446-2276, bill.sizemore@pilotonline.com

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Source: Copyright Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) 2013


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