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Lawyers who helped 3 men win $274.5m in defamation case expect to make businessman Michael Gill pay

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 30. 2017 10:01PM
A Merrimack County Superior Court jury awarded three Manchester-area businessmen $274.5 million in damages in their defamation suit against mortgage kingpin Michael Gill. From left, attorney Steve Gordon, AutoFair owner Andy Crews, Manchester developer Dick Anagnost and Primary Bank founder William Greiner answer questions after the verdict Friday morning. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

CONCORD - Winning a record, almost unthinkable $274.5 million defamation award against mortgage kingpin Michael Gill may be the easy part.

Collecting it could prove much harder.

"The so-called asset protection industry - mostly lawyers and foreign banking institutions - is huge, and it can be very cumbersome," said Marcus Hurn, a professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

"The effort by the plaintiffs will likely involve private detectives, collections lawyers and forensic accountants. They know how to go through the motions and they know how to move quickly."

The lawyers for the three Manchester-area businessmen who just won this historic judgment remain quietly confident they'll make Gill pay.

"The chances are my clients will see some of it. How much he has? I do not know," said Steve Gordon, an attorney who represented AutoFair owner Andy Crews, Manchester developer Dick Anagnost and Primary Bank founder William Greiner.

"In 2015, he claimed he was the largest mortgage broker in the country. The energy we put into trying the case, we will double that energy into collection. And we put a lot of effort into trying this case."

This investigation into Gill's wealth and where to get at it is just in its infancy, Gordon said.

For example, Gordon believes but doesn't know whether Gill's successful brokerage business, Mortgage Specialists, ever held loans or whether, as he suspects, Gill quickly sold them on the secondary market.

"My guess is that they did not hold mortgages, but I don't know. He has not provided us with any information about his assets or his business model. For all I know he could have a bank or entity somewhere where all his assets are," Gordon said.

A defiant Gill took to his State of Corruption NH Facebook page trying to discredit the verdict, hours after it was released Friday.

"I know that there is massive corruption in all of our states. My purpose was to expose NH giving you the absolute evidence of the depth of corruption and to use NH as a domino to expose corruption in every state," Gill said in a signed posting.

"I have exposed politicians, judges and law enforcement with absolute evidence and witnesses."

Gill claimed the judge refused to let him submit evidence and exhibits.

"I am not at that trial, it was a fix from the beginning," Gill said.

The judgment is believed to be the largest in state history and one of the largest in the country this year.

Each of his clients got at least $85 million, topping out at $97 million for Crews who showed the most losses to his business from Gill's electronic billboards and online postings that accused all three of drug dealing, money laundering and gun running.

Gordon thought it possible the jury would come back with something this big.

"I did see it. I saw that possibility in the case. I didn't know if we would get there," Gordon said.

"What was beautiful was this came from a jury in Merrimack County. There was nobody from Bedford, New Hampshire, where my clients are from. It was a tremendously gratifying moment coming from a county that is known for conservative jury awards."

A follow-up motion from this ruling will be to force Gill to take down Facebook pages containing his accusations, Gordon said.

The award shatters the previous injury award record in New Hampshire of $235 million that the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2016 upheld against Exxon-Mobil for using MtBE, the gasoline additive that caused groundwater and private well contamination throughout New Hampshire.

Crews, Anagnost and Greiner first sued Gill in April 2016. In finding a courtroom to hear the case, four different judges disqualified themselves due to having a role in previous lawsuits involving Gill.

Gordon and his clients said Gill created his State of Corruption campaign against them as a way to build support for his intended run for governor in 2016.

"In marketing, if you're going to be Batman, you need a villain," Crews testified. "He decided Dick (Anagnost) and I were going to be his Joker."

Ultimately, Secretary of State Bill Gardner ruled Gill was not a qualified, independent candidate because he was not registered to vote.

Gill still faces a suit from Alex Walker, a Catholic Medical Center executive who delayed his case pending this outcome. That lawsuit is set for Rockingham County.

In July, the parties settled with the other defendant in this case, Gill associate Aaron Day, a former U.S. Senate candidate and chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Greiner said Day settled for more than $1 million and the clients announced a $225,000 donation from those proceeds to Hope for New Hampshire Recovery to battle the opioid epidemic.

Gill's walkout

Gordon did not accept the notion that Gill made damages greater by walking out of the courthouse Tuesday at the beginning of trial, calling it a criminal enterprise.

"I don't know. His presence could have even increased it. The evidence against him was so overwhelming, it was so incendiary and his own behavior so volatile, if he was present it just might have made it worse," Gordon said.

UNH law professor Albert "Buzz" Scherr said the next logical move for Gill would be to ask the trial judge to reduce the verdict.

Gordon said he doesn't believe Judge Brian Tucker will reduce the award.

And Scherr said Gill likely is unaware of how vulnerable he now is.

"I don't know if he fully appreciates he's in more trouble now than he was," Scherr said.

The veteran defense lawyer Scherr said Gordon's clients have weapons.

"It's a process. It's just going to take time," Scherr said. "They'll never get $274 million, but they'll get something out of him."

They can ask the judge to order Gill to turn over tax returns, financial statements and records of bank and investment accounts, Scherr said.

If he refuses, Tucker could order him jailed for contempt.

In the meantime, Gordon and his clients could attach liens to property and bank accounts.

Gill could file for bankruptcy, likely the Chapter 7 variety, because that option is the one that's most difficult to recover money from.

Gordon declined to speculate on any response to it.

"I would never be one to predict Mike Gill's behavior so it is hard for me to tell what he will or won't do," Gordon said.

Hurn, the UNH professor, said an initial task for winners in this case is to file this judgment in all 10 New Hampshire counties, trying to find real estate and assets belonging to Gill that they can attach.

Unless Gill kept much of his money and investments in his own name, Hurn said, personal wealth will be harder to get at.

"I don't know if this is a kind of guy who does really elaborate asset protection," Hurn said.

Follow the money

One possible fertile source of cash was Gill's winnings as a nationally known owner and breeder of thoroughbred horses.

In 2005, he won that industry's Oscar, the Eclipse Award, for having the most winnings of any North American horse owner - taking 351 races for $6.4 million in winnings.

Gill started with a small stable in New England in the mid-1980s and built it into a business with as many as 440 horses and a best-earnings year of $10.8 million in 2009.

He got out of the horse-racing business a year later.

"I'm going to miss racing, and I think racing is going to miss me, too," Gill said at the time.

Gordon said online that Gill had fans who agreed with the attacks on his three clients. A website was even built depicting a gallows for the three businessmen.

Gordon has handled high-profile cases before. He once sued the FBI for the murder of a confidential informant in the infamous Whitey Bulger case and he defended Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly after the quarterback was sued by his agent.

But the Gill case was unique, said Gordon.

"We got a sense in those cases that people were rooting for us," he said.

"In this case, there were people who were rooting for Andy, Dick and Bill, and I got a sense of that, but there were thousands of people who were rooting for Mike Gill, and they were believing in Mike Gill."

Gill exploited the unfortunate truth about spreading a big falsehood, Gordon said.

"The rule of propaganda is you say it long enough, loud enough and the lie is big enough, then people start to believe it," Gordon said.

"There were many people out there who questioned whether it was true. It is a horrific thing.

"The one thing I would add is that the goodness of Andy, Dick and Bill was seen in this trial. The harm to their lives and their children was seen. In the battle of good versus evil, good prevailed."

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