Skip to main content
courts

Harold Peerenboom (R) and security consultant Steve Reesor (L) arrive in Palm Beach County Court in downtown West Palm Beach April 13, 2016, in response to litigation involving Isaac Perlmutter, the enigmatic billionaire chief executive of the Marvel Entertainment unit of the Walt Disney Company and a dispute over a local tennis professional.ANDREW INNERARITY/The Globe and Mail

The Las Vegas singer and songwriter Vic Damone was one of the first people in the ultrawealthy oceanside complex of townhouses and condos to get the anonymous hate letters.

Slanderous letters that falsely accused Mr. Damone's next door neighbour, Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom, of being a child molester, Nazi sympathizer and double murderer.

Mr. Peerenboom, once the chairman of the Toronto Harbour Commission, owns the international consulting firm Mandrake and many other businesses in Canada, including Crestwood private schools.

"When they mentioned his name and when I heard the things they were describing that supposedly he did, it was disgusting," Mr. Damone said. "Harold and I play golf and I said, 'That's not him,' and I didn't believe it."

The hate campaign, which included more than a thousand letters, is now part of a civil defamation suit in the Palm Beach courthouse between Mr. Peerenboom, a multimillionaire, and Isaac Perlmutter, the media-shy founder and CEO of Marvel Entertainment, which he sold to Disney for $4-billion in 2009.

The reason for the long-running feud? A dispute between the two men over the local tennis pro that got out of hand, leading to an expensive legal battle that has stretched on for more than four years.

Mr. Peerenboom has subpoenaed records from Marvel that he believes will show Mr. Perlmutter – one of the largest shareholders in Disney – launched the vicious hate-mail campaign, falsely accusing him of murder and child molestation to pressure him to leave the gated community.

"My current case is simply to collect as much evidence as I possibly can, and at some stage … the police will lay charges," Mr. Peerenboom told The Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview.

Mr. Perlmutter, who lives in the same complex, has never given any media interviews, and the last known picture of him was taken in 1985. His lawyer has denied that Mr. Perlmutter and his wife, Laura, had anything to do with the hate campaign.

"He has denied sending the hate letters, yes," famed Miami criminal lawyer Roy Black said in a brief conversation with The Globe.

The litigation includes DNA evidence collected from one of the letters that matches DNA on a water bottle that Ms. Perlmutter left in court when she and her husband were deposed on Feb 27, 2013. Mr. Peerenboom paid a private lab to conduct tests which indicated a 97.6 per cent possibility the DNA came from Ms. Perlmutter.

"I got a call from the Erich Speckin lab and they say they have three male DNA and one female DNA. The female DNA is Mrs. Perlmutter," Mr. Peerenboom said. "The DNA, unfortunately, is only a 97.6-per-cent match."

Under Florida law, that could be strong enough for a civil case but not for a criminal trial.

Mr. Black told court on Wednesday the DNA evidence was "a sting operation" and is inadmissible in court. He claims Ms. Perlmutter's DNA was illegally swiped off papers and a water bottle she had handled during the deposition.

Judge Meena Sasser is hearing arguments on whether to allow the DNA as evidence in the civil trial scheduled for January, 2017.

Both men have hired high-priced lawyers. Mr. Black is known for successfully defending William Kennedy Smith against a rape charge. Mr. Peerenboom has hired New York civil litigator Marc Kasowitz, who has represented Donald Trump. He's also hired former Toronto deputy police chief Steve Reesor as his lead investigator.

Mr. Peerenboom and Mr. Perlmutter belong to Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago country club, where the entry membership costs $100,000.

At the centre of the legal soap opera is Karen Donnelly, the tennis instructor at the Sloan's Curve complex, where the two men reside. It is alleged that the 73-year-old Mr. Perlmutter, an avid tennis player, was infuriated when Mr. Peerenboom wanted to hold a competitive bid for the position Ms. Donnelly has held since 1993.

At one meeting over the tennis pro dispute, it is alleged in court documents that Mr. Perlmutter told a resident allied with Mr. Peerenboom that "we will never have peace again, until he leaves."

Ms. Donnelly then filed a slander lawsuit – paid for by Mr. Perlmutter – against Mr. Peerenboom and others at Sloan's Curve. It's also alleged that Ms. Perlmutter used her connections to ostracize Mr. Peerenboom's wife, Robin, from the card-playing club at the nearby High Ridge Country Club.

Soon after, the hateful letter campaign began. The first letters in June of 2011 were Canadian newspaper articles about Mr. Peerenboom's past legal entanglements in Canada and escalated in December, 2012, to accusations that he had sexually assaulted a minor at "knifepoint" and bribed the victim's mother to cover up the crime.

"Keep your family safe by keeping away from Harold Peerenboom," the letter said. Other hate letters followed over the next four years, mailed to Mr. Peerenboom's friends and business partners and Crestwood teachers and parents.

He was accused of other incidents of child molestation and threatened with bodily violence unless he left Sloan's Curve. Another falsely claimed he murdered a local couple in 2013, one of whom was once a director at his private school.

Other letters stated Mr. Peerenboom believed in Hitler's Final Solution and wanted to attack Jewish neighbours, including Mr. Perlmutter, an Israeli-American.

"We were sick to our stomach. I called the police. The police came over in a car. The neighbours turned their letters over to them," Mr. Peerenboom said. He offered $100,000 reward information on who was behind the hate letters.

The Palm Beach police and U.S. Postal Service are also investigating. Palm Beach detective Larry Menitti told The Globe that the Perlmutters are the prime suspects in the criminal investigation.

"When my office took a complaint report, they were suspects at the inception of the case," he said. He asked the Perlmutters to submit to a lie detector test: "Ultimately they didn't do it."

When Mr. Peerenboom and his wife were involved in a serious car accident and hospitalized in 2013 in Toronto, a letter was sent to the couple's Sloan's Curve home. "In September, we heard around the neighbourhood that you had died in a car accident," the unsigned letter said. "I was looking to buy my ticket to go to Canada so I could spit, dance, urinate and defecate on your grave. Then found out you cheated death."

Robin Peerenboom contemplated hiring bodyguards after 1,350 letters, purporting to be from her husband, were sent to violent inmates in U.S. and Canadian prisons, calling them "scumbags" and saying "I am a wealthy man who is paying you to waste time and space on earth … our world doesn't need scum like you."

Ms. Peerenboom said, "When the letters got more vindictive, we were scared. Some of our friends wanted us to have bodyguards because they were worried about our safety."

Then, last summer, someone bolted a chain around the front gate of their posh chateau in Lake Simcoe. At first they thought it was a prank. The next time it happened, security cameras picked up a hooded man chaining the gate.

"When it happened again, it was really scary. What are they going to do next? Set fire to our house? It's frightening when someone is fooling around where you live," Ms. Peerenboom said.

At one point in the legal battle, an effort was made to settle the dispute privately. Elliot Hershberg, a neighbour and friend of Mr. Perlmutter, approached Mr. Peerenboom. "He offered me $20-million to settle this thing, and I said, 'I'm not going to settle this thing,' " Mr. Peerenboom said. "He then came back and asked if I would settle for $100-million and I said no. He said, 'What would it take for you to make this go away?' I said, if he writes a cheque for $400-million, for which I can give a great portion away to charity, I'd be prepared to let this thing slide."

Mr. Hershberg confirmed to The Globe that he acted as a mediator between the two men. He said "there were substantial amounts" of money on the table. Asked what Mr. Perlmutter said about the request for $400-million, Mr. Hershberg said he replied: "Let the courts decide."

Recently a New York judge ordered Marvel to search its servers for e-mails and other evidence of Mr. Perlmutter's connection to the letters. Those e-mails have now been turned over to Mr. Peerenboom's legal team. Mr. Peerenboom testified in court on Wednesday that some of the e-mails show the Perlmutters were investigating him and contain newspaper articles about his various lawsuits in Canada that were part of the first batch of letters sent in June, 2011.

Mr. Peerenboom's lawsuit has withstood multiple attempts to have it dismissed. Under Florida law, the courts typically award up to 15 per cent of punitive damages in civil cases. If Mr. Peerenboom is successful in his defamation suit, he could walk away with $600-million.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story