Owner of Presidential Yacht Sequoia Accused of Blackmail, Concealing $10 Million He Owed

Affidavit in Delaware court also accuses owners of not paying Sequoia staff.

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The saga over the future of the presidential yacht, Sequoia, continues as new court filings were made Sunday that accused the owner of the historic vessel of attempted blackmail, and of concealing more than $10 million he owed to multiple parties.

Every president from Herbert Hoover to Jimmy Carter once used the wooden yacht, which is currently a national historic landmark located in Washington.

The controversy began after Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group and its president, Gary Silversmith, sued Washington-based lender FE Partners in a New York court last month over what the group called a "dastardly plan to wrest control" of the 88-year-old presidential vessel. FE Partners called the case "grossly inaccurate" and said that Silversmith had asked them for help keeping the boat in the U.S., after energy company Gazprom, Russia's largest company, expressed interest in buying it. Silversmith says that isn't true.

The case was tossed out in New York, but recently re-filed in a Delaware court.

Secretary of the Navy John Connally Jr. leans over the rail of the yacht USS Sequoia to greet President John F. Kennedy at the Naval Weapons Plant dock in Washington on July 11, 1961. (Byron Rollins/AP)
Secretary of the Navy John Connally Jr. leans over the rail of the yacht USS Sequoia to greet President John F. Kennedy at the Naval Weapons Plant dock in Washington on July 11, 1961. (Byron Rollins/AP)

FE Partners' director Michael Cantor upped the ante in Delaware Sunday, filing an affidavit accusing Silversmith of attempted blackmail, and of concealing more than $10 million he owed to various parties. "The undisclosed financial problems... included outstanding debts owed by Sequoia LLC, repeated failures to pay the crew on time and other troubling disclosures," Cantor wrote in his sworn statement.

Silversmith says the affidavit contains "a lot of misstatements and mischaracterizations," and that the Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group does not currently owe any taxes or salary to its crew.

Cantor's affidavit also contains a July correspondence the captain of the Sequoia supposedly sent to Silversmith. "I'm sorry but I need to cancel the staff for today," the captain allegedly wrote. "I don't believe that you'll [sic] pay them. I don't believe anything you say anymore."

Silversmith says he never saw that E-mail.

Denmark's Queen Margrethe arrives for a tour on the USS Sequoia presidential yacht in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2011.

But perhaps the most explosive allegation contained in the affidavit is that Silversmith tried to blackmail a woman into accepting less money than she was owed. The women, Gina Sanjines, is a relative of the boat's captain and had lent Silversmith money for the Sequoia, the affidavit alleges. The document also notes that she is currently employed in the White House.

The White House confirmed to Whispers that a woman named Gina Sanjines works in the usher's office.

"If she does not accept my $80,000 today, then I will have the Inspector General at the White House review the debt and her hard money lending business that she is conducting," Silversmith allegedly wrote to Sequoia's captain in August 2012, according to the affidavit.

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"I understand the Inspector General at the White House would not view it favorably."

But Silversmith says he never went to the Inspector General, and that he does not recall if he had written that E-mail.

"[Cantor is] throwing mud at the wall just so he can grab the Sequoia at a discount price," Silversmith says. "It's very upsetting... and it's an inaccurate blemish on our management of the Sequoia."

Affidavit of L Michael Cantor by Elizabeth Flock

Affidavit of L Michael Cantor 2 by Elizabeth Flock

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