Former Navy SEAL Erik Prince faces ghost writer's lawsuit
Published on July 11, 2013
The author of "The World's Most Dangerous Places" is threatening to take Erik Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater private security firm, to court.
Robert Young Pelton claims that Prince, a former Navy SEAL who built a fortune from multi-million dollar security contracts with the State Department and CIA, has failed to pay him for work he did ghost-writing Prince's memoir.
And that he's been unceremoniously dumped--without so much as a thank you for your service.
Publisher Penguin Random House announced
July 8 that it had signed Prince, whose firm became synonymous with out-of-control private security contractors, for a memoir that one source estimated to be worth $2 million. The announcement did not put a price tag on the deal.
But Pelton, who showed SpyTalk evidence that a manuscript he wrote for Prince drew a $750,000 offer from Penguin only four months ago, claims that he's owed at least something for his work, no matter that he's been left out of the new deal.
Pelton said in a phone interview and emails that he's going to sue Prince in Virginia for $40,000, which represents the time he's put in writing the manuscript, and for damages that could amount to considerably more.
"That $2 million book belongs to me," Pelton said.
The publisher did not identify Prince's current collaborator.
Other writers might say, Get in line.
Pelton, author of several extreme-adventure books and an online magazine called "Dangerous
," said Prince sent him a manuscript in 2011 that he'd done with another writer, and asked his opinion.
It was mostly sour grapes, "a random collection of 'someone stole my lunch money'-style complaints interspersed with clumsy right wing diatribes," Pelton said.
"But once these political embellishments were scraped away, there was a fascinating book about a man who considered himself a patriot, builds a billion dollar business and then is thrown under a fleet of buses for providing manpower to the various government agencies that do our dirty work."
He advised Prince to pay off the other writer and move on--with him.
Pelton said he told Prince "that if we focused on facts, and I hired an ace fact-checker/writer to keep him on the straight and narrow, we would have a great book."
He advised Prince to "tell the truth, let the reader decide on which side of the argument they come down on."
By early 2013, they'd hammered out a suitable manuscript. But a significant hurdle remained: CIA censors.
Since Prince had been part of a secret CIA task force set up to kill terrorists, he was required to submit his manuscript to the spy agency for review and vetting--even before he showed the material to potential collaborators.
Prince hadn't, and didn't want to now, Pelton said. "Erik didn't give a shit, he was in a hurry."
Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton (left), born July 25, 1955 in Edmonton, Canada, is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. Pelton's journalistic work usually consists of conflict reporting and interviews with military and political figures in warzones. | Photo: Facebook | Link |
"I cautioned Erik with lists of prosecutions of other former CIA authors" who had defied agency censors and lost, Pelton added. But Prince replied, "What have they done to me that they haven't done already?"
Prince, who rarely speaks with reporters, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pelton then suggested a work-around, changing the book from a first-person memoir to a standard nonfiction book written by himself with Prince's cooperation. Prince rejected that, too.
"Erik insisted on putting his name on the book," Pelton said, "even though I have rarely seen a missive written by Prince that is longer than two sentences."
"He is painfully clumsy at forming coherent thoughts," Pelton added. "Stoic and tight- lipped. Perhaps being shy and careful with what he says to people contributes to a difficult communication style. But between myself and the [hired] writer, we jackhammered past the fa?ade to get to the heart of the story."
Early in 2013, Pelton's agent sent the manuscript to Adrian Zackheim, editor of Sentinel Books, a conservative Penguin imprint that had published the memoirs of retired Army General Stanley McChrystal, who led the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq and then Afghanistan before he was relieved by President Obama, and other conservative figures.
On March 16, 2013, Zackheim made an offer of $750,000, "for the privilege of working with Mr. Prince to launch his book."
"We are thrilled by Erik Prince's manuscript and would love to publish it this fall under the Sentinel imprint of Penguin group," Zackheim wrote. "We think it has the potential to be a major national bestseller in the U.S. and probably in other parts of the world as well."
There was no mention of Pelton. But the agent was his, and Zackheim was making an offer on the manuscript Pelton had done with Prince.
Naturally, Pelton was elated. He relayed the $750,000 offer to Prince. But there was no response.
Prince's silence continued for weeks. Pelton began to suspect that their fallout stemmed from an unpublished article he wrote about one of Prince's operations, which he'd sent to his erstwhile partner for fact-checking.
Or because Prince was just a control freak. Or cheap. A previous writer had had to badger Prince to get paid.
Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton (left), born July 25, 1955 in Edmonton, Canada, is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. Pelton's journalistic work usually consists of conflict reporting and interviews with military and political figures in warzones. | Photo: | Robert Young Pelton, Knives, Filmmaker, Journalist,
"Erik's version of his life is radically different than they way he is portrayed in the media," Pelton said. "He is notoriously cheap. Flying coach and bragging about paying $17 for a haircut is his way of connecting with happier days when his father was still alive and they lived in a heavily mortgaged house. Erik told me he wished he had made more money as a contractor, insisting his billion dollars a year was eroded by massive legal bills, penalties and slim margins."
Finally, Pelton flew to Austria, where the ex-Navy SEAL was traveling, "to tell him face to face about what I thought of his new rug-dealing business ethics." He flew home the next day.
"On the 12-hour flight back to California the next day I had plenty of time to view Erik's world from a different perspective," Pelton recalled by email.
"A number of people have been damaged by Erik's ideas: South African mercenaries abandoned in the desert of Somalia, Colombians hired [to protect the UAE monarchy] and chiseled out of money, Iraqis gunned down or run over by convoys, contractors in federal courts charged with murder," Pelton said. "Former business associates who felt betrayed all seemed to share a common story.
"A great idea for Erik," Pelton said, "does not translate into benefit for others."
The next he heard, Prince was shopping his, or a different, manuscript around New York, and collaborating with yet another ghost writer.
At least four writers have been attached to the project so far.
Prince, who has frequently complained that he's been unfairly maligned by the media, the Justice Department and Congress, has been talking about doing a book for at least three years.
Shortly after his 2010 congressional testimony, sources close to the resentful security entrepreneur told me
that he planned to write al book.
"He's going to drop the names of people who, before, were saying, 'Yeah, go kill Osama Bin Laden' and stuff like that, but went sideways on him when the investigations began," one of the sources said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to maintain relations with the company, which had been renamed XE Services. It was later sold and renamed again.
The manuscript he wrote with Pelton insinuates that a lawyer connected to a senior member of a congressional committee investigating Blackwater tried to "shake down" Prince for $20 million "to make it go away."
It could make for fascinating reading.
"Prince was being investigated by seven government agencies and was under attack in civil suits. As soon as the smoke cleared this book was his payback," Pelton said.
He wanted revenge against Jeremy Scahill, whose scathing book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
," had gotten a lot of attention, Pelton said.
"Erik also wanted to be viewed as pious, a family man and someone who has contributed to social welfare, something that was absent from the popular media picture."
Meanwhile, the book manuscript "spent over two months" in the hands of the CIA's Publications Review Board "and who knows how much elsewhere as bureaucrats picked through which embarrassing events would be redacted," Pelton said.
Now, Pelton said, if he doesn't get satisfaction from Prince, he's going to publish the uncensored manuscript himself.
"I will be suing Erik and the publisher [Penguin] and putting the entire pre-CIA vetted book online as proof of performance," Pelton said.
"We are filing in federal court in Virginia where Erik's mother's trust fund is'for a number of things," he added.
"Being unpaid for doing this book is just one of them."