After earning a partial victory in a long-running civil lawsuit filed against him by Amazon, Denver developer Brian Watson is trying to regain control of his company and his personal finances.
For 17 months, the bank accounts of Northstar Commercial Partners and Watson himself have been controlled by a court-appointed receiver, with whom he has repeatedly clashed.
The receiver, Mark A. Roberts of Alvarez & Marsal North America, was appointed by a judge in November 2021, after Watson and related entities were found in contempt of court for failing to deposit about $25 million in an escrow account.
The court ordered Watson to put up the cash in June 2020 as part of a preliminary injunction. That was shortly after he and his company were sued by Amazon, which accuses Watson of paying kickbacks to its employees in order to secure deals to develop Amazon data centers in northern Virginia.
Watson, who denies wrongdoing, said that he didn’t deposit the money because he couldn’t, as much of his wealth was tied up in real estate or corporate ownership stakes.
Roberts, the receiver, has since confirmed that, telling the court quarterly that Watson still doesn’t have the resources to put up the cash.
Last month, a judge rejected the bulk of Amazon’s claims against Watson, leaving just two: tortious interference and civil conspiracy to engage in it. Although the rulings didn’t address whether Watson knowingly paid kickbacks, they narrowed the nature of the case significantly.
A final resolution is likely still a ways off. A trial in the case had been scheduled to begin May 1 in Virginia, but was recently pushed back to October.
Now, citing the judge’s recent rulings, Watson is arguing that the receiver is no longer needed because the “circumstances underlying the preliminary injunction have dramatically shifted.”
Watson noted that the judge dismissed claims in part because Amazon failed to show how it was harmed by the alleged kickbacks. And his attorneys wrote in court documents that he has been “held hostage” by the preliminary injunction.
“His business has been dismantled, his assets were placed under total control of the Receiver, his family home was sold, his personal and corporate credit have been decimated, and his personal and professional life have been placed on hold,” Watson’s attorneys wrote.
Amazon’s attorneys oppose the request, and note that Watson has previously unsuccessfully asked the injunction be lifted. They argue that “the facts supporting Amazon’s claims have only grown stronger” since then, pointing to the fact that two people linked to Watson pleaded guilty criminally in March.
Both men also executed separate settlement deals with Amazon. One of them, ex-Northstar executive Kyle Ramstetter, said in a deposition that he agreed to the settlement in part because he believed it would help him in the criminal case.
Watson himself has not been charged criminally. Hearing dates for two other defendants poised to plead criminally, former Northstar executive Will Clemenson and former Amazon employee Jason Fogle, have been repeatedly pushed back and are now scheduled for July.
Watson, who was the Republican nominee for Colorado state treasurer in 2018, also separately faces civil charges of securities fraud filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.