Getting Personal: Brown & Williamson Has 500-Page Dossier Attacking Chief Critic --- Court Files, Private Letters, Even a Suspicious Flood Are Fodder for Sleuths --- Ivana Trump's Private Eye
By Suein L. Hwang and Milo Geyelin
Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal
Copyright (c) 1996, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
In December 1992, before he became the highest-ranking defector in the history of the tobacco industry, Jeffrey Wigand had a problem with some wet luggage.
In a letter to Aviaco Airlines, he complained his bags had been lost and then returned soaking wet. The result: a $95.20 cleaning bill he wanted the airline to repay.
Today, that letter is exhibit No. 27 in a huge dossier Mr. Wigand's former employer Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. has compiled in an all-out bid to challenge his credibility. Facing Mr. Wigand's explosive allegations of company wrongdoing, the big cigarette maker is fighting back by combing through nearly every imaginable detail of its former top research executive's past.
The B&W camp has paid a blue-chip private-investigation firm to hunt for misstatements in Mr. Wigand's past resumes, driver's-license applications and his complaints about various personal purchases. It hired a scientific consultant to pore over Mr. Wigand's doctoral dissertation, searching for signs of plagiarism. It even got hold of a videotape of a mock interview he made with an outplacement firm that was helping him find a job after B&W fired him -- and checked out the accuracy of every assertion he made on the tape.
Representatives of B&W offered the fruits of their investigation to The Wall Street Journal: a 500-page file bearing the title "The Misconduct of Jeffrey S. Wigand Available in the Public Record." Subheadings include "Wigand's Lies About His Residence," "Wigand's Lies Under Oath" and "Other Lies By Wigand."
A close look at the file, and independent research by this newspaper into its key claims, indicates that many of the serious allegations against Mr. Wigand are backed by scant or contradictory evidence. Some of the charges -- including that he pleaded guilty to shoplifting -- are demonstrably untrue.
Still, B&W did locate testimony in which Mr. Wigand previously told Justice Department investigators he knew of no wrongdoing at the company -- a seeming contradiction with later testimony. And B&W identified several cases of incorrect dates and some exaggerated claims in his resumes and the outplacement interview, misstatements that Mr. Wigand now concedes. Among the most inflated claims: He falsely stated, albeit in his taped rehearsal for a job interview, that he was once on the Olympic judo team.
B&W's tactics aren't unheard of in high-stakes litigation, but the vivid details seldom come to light. And, whatever they turn out to prove about Mr. Wigand, they provide sometimes-chilling insight into how much a company can find out about a former employee -- and the lengths it may go to discredit a critic.
In this case, the tobacco company, the nation's third biggest, is responding to a series of extremely serious charges Mr. Wigand made in pretrial testimony last November in a lawsuit against the industry by the state of Mississippi.
Mr. Wigand, 53 years old, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry, was B&W's $300,000-a-year research director until he was fired under disputed circumstances in 1993. In his sealed deposition, which this newspaper obtained and reported on last week, Mr. Wigand accused former B&W Chairman Thomas Sandefur of lying under oath to Congress about his views on nicotine addiction -- a charge Mr. Sandefur has denied. Among other things, Mr. Wigand also said that B&W in-house lawyers repeatedly hid potentially damaging research.
In November, after the publication of excerpts from a transcript of a "60 Minutes" interview with Mr. Wigand in which he made some similar charges, B&W sued him for fraud, theft of secrets and breach of contract. B&W, a unit of London-based B.A.T Industries PLC, vehemently denies Mr. Wigand's allegations against it.
In its dossier on Mr. Wigand's past, B&W includes his gripe about wet luggage in its litany of his 18 complaints mostly dealing with damaged or lost consumer goods, including golf clubs, sunglasses, a fountain pen and the like. A B&W representative says the company found these complaint letters in Mr. Wigand's office. The dossier brandishes these as exhibits A through R under the heading "Possible False or Fraudulent Claims."
But, as with some other allegations in the dossier, evidence of actual wrongdoing isn't presented. While B&W outside counsel Jerome C. Katz acknowledges that the company couldn't prove that any of the 18 complaints was fraudulent, he says the large number of letters provides "circumstantial evidence" that Mr. Wigand was fabricating claims. A lawyer for Mr. Wigand says all the complaints were made in good faith.
B&W also cited a 1987 police report providing Mr. Wigand's name as a suspect in a flood at Biosonics Inc., a former employer. B&W's conclusion: "Wigand may have flooded Biosonics' offices over the weekend of October 3-4, 1987."
A handwritten report in the B&W dossier from the Mount Laurel, N.J., police department says Mr. Wigand was suspected because he was due to be dismissed around the time of the flood and was considered "vindictive" by Biosonics. The police report doesn't describe any effort to investigate Mr. Wigand and concludes that "it is impossible to determine if a crime occurred." Richard Scruggs, Mr. Wigand's lawyer, says Mr. Wigand doesn't know anything about the flood.
Mr. Scruggs calls B&W's overall effort a "smear campaign" aimed at "punishing a whistle-blower and a defector." He adds: "If you subjected any citizen of the United States to this sort of scrutiny, they would probably fare far worse than Jeff Wigand has."
As for the January 1994 testimony in which Mr. Wigand told the Justice Department he knew of no wrongdoing by the company, Mr. Scruggs says his client may not have known at the time that some of the conduct he allegedly witnessed constituted a crime. Moreover, Mr. Scruggs says, because Mr. Wigand had just finished a messy fight with B&W over his firing and was accompanied at the testimony by a B&W lawyer, he was "testifying with a gun to his head."
B&W could have a tough time getting many of its findings -- particularly those involving personal matters -- admitted as evidence in a trial. Normally, evidence of past falsehoods is tightly restricted unless directly relevant to the subject of the testimony -- in this case, alleged wrongdoing in the tobacco industry.
"The defense is going to have to work very hard to link up these events with his testimony," says Arthur Miller, a Harvard law professor and authority on civil-court procedure who isn't involved in the case. "The very fact that Brown & Williamson is circulating this as a doomsday book suggests that they know they can't get it all in, and they are engaging in a form of character assassination to get some media impact."
Mr. Katz, a New York attorney representing B&W, acknowledges that a court may not admit all the company's evidence, but adds, "I can tell you this: All of it is admissible in the court of public opinion." He calls B&W's dossier "accurate in every material respect" and declares: "What it adds up to is that Jeffrey Wigand is a pathological liar. His entire life, as best we can tell, has been a tissue of lies."
To build its file on Mr. Wigand, Brown & Williamson assembled a formidable team. It includes lawyers from the big New York firm Chadbourne & Parke and Atlanta's King & Spalding, and top New York public-relations adviser John Scanlon. They are working with the Investigative Group Inc., a leading Washington-based detective firm whose New York office is run by a former New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. This is the firm Ivana Trump hired to investigate her rival Marla Maples and that Sen. Edward Kennedy used to check into an opponent in his 1994 campaign.
The team has cast an extremely wide net. For instance, it sifted through Mr. Wigand's phone credit-card records, which he had submitted to B&W for reimbursement as part of a severance deal that covered job-hunting expenses. Using these records, the dossier highlights two calls from a hospital as exhibit No. 50 to back up two anonymous letters with alleged details about Mr. Wigand's medical history.
B&W also made extensive use of the videotape of a job-interview rehearsal by its former executive, a fact that may prove chastening to any number of U.S. corporate employees making use of outplacement firms as they arrange career moves.
On April 21, 1993, a month after he was fired, Mr. Wigand took part in a role-playing session with Neil Hindman, president of The Hindman Co., the Louisville, Ky., firm the company paid to help Mr. Wigand find another job. With a video camera trained on him, Mr. Wigand participated in a mock interview in which he pretended to be applying for a job at a fictional beverage company.
Mr. Hindman says B&W, with court approval, subpoenaed his firm's files on Mr. Wigand, and he turned them over. "I am not about to keep the results of a lawful subpoena from a court of law," Mr. Hindman says. James Challenger, president of Chicago outplacement-firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., says he has never heard of another such subpoena and adds that he would resist it.
With the mock-interview tape in hand, B&W seized on a few of Mr. Wigand's statements and added them to two lists in its dossier: "Lies on Wigand's Resumes" and "Other Lies by Wigand."
In one instance, Mr. Wigand said on tape that he was a "'64 Olympian in judo" and "an alternate to the Munich games." In a 1993 resume, Mr. Wigand also called himself a 1966 "founder" of the United States Judo Association and a member of its "Medical Committee." B&W's dossier quotes a judo-association representative as saying the group was founded in 1954 and has no medical committee.
In an interview, the association's former president, Philip S. Porter, lends general support to Mr. Wigand's view of judo history. Mr. Porter says a predecessor organization, the Strategic Air Command Judo Society, was founded in 1954. It went through several name changes and, in the late 1960s, became the United States Judo Association. Mr. Porter says the association had numerous committees that came and went, although he doesn't remember the medical committee specifically. He also says he remembers Mr. Wigand as one of the association's earliest black-belt members.
Mr. Wigand's statements about the Olympics, however, appear to be inaccurate. People in Mr. Wigand's camp say he was at the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, but only to spar with U.S. athletes, and that he helped train athletes for Munich in 1972. His lawyer, Mr. Scruggs, emphasizes that his comments were made in a mock interview that wasn't intended to be shown to anyone.
Mr. Wigand also said on tape and in one resume that he once was a surgical nurse. B&W adds this to its catalog of alleged lies, saying New York surgical nurses must be certified as licensed or registered practical nurses, and "research to date" has found no such
record for Mr. Wigand.
But this charge, small as it is, doesn't withstand scrutiny. The human-resources department of one of the hospitals listed on Mr. Wigand's resume, Our Lady of Victory in Buffalo, confirms that he did, indeed, work there in the 1960s as an operating-room technician, an unlicensed attendant who stands by the surgeon and handles instruments. Back in the 1960s, the distinctions between attendants and surgical nurses were much looser at some hospitals than they are today, according to the New York State Nurses Association.
In search of other possible misstatements, the B&W team engaged the services of Shakalyn Enterprises Inc., a Chicago "scientific consultation" firm. On Jan. 12, 1996, its president, C. Murray Ardies, submitted his "discussions and analysis of cv and publication record of J.S.W." Mr. Ardies reported that he had trouble tracking down some of the publications Mr. Wigand listed on his curriculum vitae and concluded that "there appear to be at least a couple of fraudulent entries in the C.V. that I was given."
He added: "Whether they are deliberate, or simply a `mistake or typo,' as no doubt anyone in these circumstances would claim, is difficult to determine."
Mr. Ardies also read Mr. Wigand's biochemistry Ph.D. dissertation and wrote that, "for 1970-1972, the scientific work appears to be reasonable and well done," adding a parenthetical note: "I have actually performed a very similar purification procedure for a steroid-binding protein from yeast while at Stanford."
The B&W team also went looking for Mr. Wigand's name in the files of the Jefferson County District Court in Mr. Wigand's Louisville hometown. There, it found the scientist had two run-ins with the law, and both occupy prominent places in the B&W dossier. "Wigand was arrested for and pleaded guilty to shoplifting," asserts the document, adding that he "pleaded guilty to the shoplifting charge and completed 20 hours of volunteer work."
But that isn't the way the state judge who presided over the case remembers it. Mr. Wigand had been charged in 1994 with shoplifting a bottle of Wild Turkey at a local liquor store. However, the judge, Deborah Deweese, says in an interview that Mr. Wigand didn't plead guilty in the case. Rather, the charge was dismissed after he completed volunteer work. Mr. Scruggs, Mr. Wigand's lawyer, says the incident was the result of a misunderstanding that occurred when Mr. Wigand went to his car to retrieve some money.
The second charge was even more volatile. An Oct. 23, 1993, a complaint by Mr. Wigand's wife to the police makes an allegation of spousal abuse. The court's docket sheet indicates that Mr. Wigand attended "weekly anger-control counseling and continued psychotherapy" before the charge was dismissed.
It isn't clear from the court papers in the B&W dossier whether the counseling was required to get the charge dismissed. Indeed, the dossier doesn't even include any judge's order finding that he committed the offense. However, B&W declares in the document: "Wigand beat his wife."
Mr. Scruggs, speaking for Mr. Wigand, adamantly denies the charge. "He did not beat his wife," Mr. Scruggs says. "It's just not true." He says Mr. Wigand volunteered to go into counseling after a dispute with his wife, and the move wasn't related to the charge's dismissal. Mr. Wigand's wife didn't return a call seeking comment.
The company also took a close look at any awards Mr. Wigand said he received -- and the dossier claims to have caught a fabrication. Under "Lies on Wigand's Resumes," entry "S" says Mr. Wigand "falsely claimed" he won a YMCA National Service to Youth Leadership Award in 1971. The dossier states that the YMCA's "Don Keiser" had never heard of the award. Neither had a representative from the YMCA's office in Buffalo, where Mr. Wigand had lived.
But Don Kyzer, head of the YMCA's Teen Leadership Program, says he doesn't remember being asked about the award. He says he only arrived at the Y in 1991 and wouldn't necessarily know about awards in the 1970s. "This is the first I've been contacted on this issue. . . . Had they asked me that, I would have said I have no clue. I have no clue at all."
YMCA's Buffalo chief executive John Murray says the branch there does hand out a Service to Youth Leadership Award to active volunteers and did so in 1971. He says, however, that the files for the 1970s were largely destroyed by a basement flood so he can't look up the 1971 awards.
A B&W lawyer says the company may have to take another look. "If there is a mistake in the evidence-gathering, we would be the first one to correct it," says James E. Milliman, an outside lawyer for the company in Louisville. "Our goal is to be as accurate as we can possibly be."