According to News 6 and court records, the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into statements made about the documentary Blackfish by SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. executives, putting the company under criminal investigation. These court records were confirmed by U.S. Department of Justice’s Chief of Fraud Section, Sandra Moser.
On August 25, 2017, Sandra Moser filed a motion in federal court “seeking to intervene in a 2014 civil lawsuit filed by a group of SeaWorld shareholders.” The shareholders claim that SeaWorld intentionally misrepresented how much of a negative impact Blackfish would have financially on the company.
The Department of Justice has asked the civil litigation judge to delay depositions until November 30. This is due to the Department of Justice not wanting civil attorneys questioning witnesses in the civil case to “negatively affect the ongoing criminal investigation.”
Court records show that former SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer, Jim Atchison, has obtained a lawyer, Gil Soffer. Previously Atchison was represented by SeaWorld’s legal team.
Right after Blackfish was released and when Jim Atchison was still Chief Executive Officer, he denied the claim that the documentary was not negatively impacting attendance, “instead attributing attendance declines to bad weather, the timing of holidays and higher admission prices.” Yet, according to the lawsuit, Atchison himself sold 154,000 personal shares of the company between December 2, 2013, and March 6, 2014, making him a total profit of $4,662,235.
It wasn’t until August 13, 2014 (the film premiere on July 19, 2013) that SeaWorld publicly admitted that they were impacted by Blackfish, and even then it was only recognized through “proposed legislation in the state of California,” which would have banned the display of captive whales for entertainment, due in large part to the pressures of Blackfish. After that admission, SeaWorld stock crashed 33 percent.
Credit: News 6 Orlando