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The Toronto-based Four Seasons hotel chain and the owner of its Caracas, Venezuela, hotel are locked in a nasty legal fight that includes allegations of computer hacking, mismanagement, falsification of evidence, and claims that the chain’s expert witness repeatedly lied about his academic credentials. In January 2001 Four Seasons opened a hotel in Caracas that was built and owned by Carlos Barrera, principal owner and president of the privately held Venezuela company Consorcio Barr S.A. Four Seasons manages the hotel. Consorcio Barr is the principal owner. But Barrera alleges that the luxury hotel company mismanaged the property and then sued his company in November 2001 to silence him after he complained that Four Seasons did not have adequate financial controls and was costing his company thousands of dollars. In court filings, he describes Four Seasons’ behavior as akin “to a group of renegade organizations determined to employ whatever tactics are necessary.” Chief among Barrera’s allegations is that Four Seasons’ primary witness to support its lawsuit is a “pathological liar” who has perjured himself and falsified evidence. For its part, the Four Seasons maintains that Barrera failed to meet his financial obligations and that the hotel company was forced to file suit because Consorcio Barr accessed Four Seasons’ proprietary information by hacking into the hotel’s computer network. In June the Four Seasons Hotel Caracas stopped taking reservations. The stoppage, which received widespread coverage in the Venezuelan news media, has resulted in hundreds of employees being put out of work, an international arbitration dispute and calls for criminal prosecution. Lawsuits are pending both in U.S. District Court in Miami and in Venezuelan courts. Barrera is asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami to investigate whether Four Seasons has engaged in perjury and falsification of evidence. But Four Seasons replies that “if any referral to the U.S. Attorney’s office is to be made here, it should be regarding defendants’ conduct.” Four Seasons says it sued Barrera’s company because it hacked into the hotel chain’s computers to gain proprietary information about hotel customers. Four Seasons also claims that Barrera failed to pay vendors and employees on a timely basis. And it is standing by its expert witness. Four Seasons is being represented in the case by Miami attorneys John C. Carey, a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton, and Juan J. Rodriguez, a partner at Rodriguez & Machado. Eduardo Palmer and Edwin G. Torres, both partners with Steel Hector & Davis in Miami, are representing Consorcio Barr in Miami. All attorneys declined comment. The dispute began in November 2001 when Four Seasons sued Concorcio Barr and Barrera in federal court in Miami for allegedly hacking into the hotel chain’s computer network and gaining access to proprietary data, such as guest lists and information detailing guest buying habits. Shortly after filing suit, Four Seasons won a temporary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks prohibiting Concorcio Barr from accessing Four Seasons corporate computers. The case has since been transferred from Middlebrooks to U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore. In February, Consorcio Barr sued Four Seasons in Venezuelan courts to get out of its contract with Four Seasons, asserting that the dispute should be resolved in the courts and not in arbitration. Four Seasons has asked for arbitration. Both the lawsuits and arbitration proceedings are pending. Barrera has sought to have Judge Middlebrooks’ injunction lifted. He alleges that Four Seasons originally sued his company last November to cover up its mismanagement of the 212-room Four Seasons Caracas. Barrera claims that before the lawsuit was filed, he had become increasingly concerned about the management of the hotel and had insisted on seeing the hotel’s financial figures. The Four Seasons lawsuit is based on fraudulent allegations and was a pre-emptive strike to silence him, he claims. Barrera also contends that Four Seasons’ primary witness, Jozel Venegas, management information systems director for the Four Seasons in Atlanta, has made sworn misrepresentations to the court, falsified evidence and committed perjury. Venegas was dispatched to the hotel to personally inspect the Four Seasons Caracas computer system. He attested in a sworn affidavit in November 2001 that computer hacking took place. But Venegas can’t seem to make up his mind where he went to school. In his sworn affidavit Venegas asserted that he earned both an undergraduate and master’s degree in computer science from Pasadena College in California, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Bridge Water University at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, which does not exist. In testimony at a subsequent hearing in November 2001, Venegas changed his story and said he had earned his Ph.D. at Georgia Tech. Then Four Seasons admitted in court filings that Venegas did not earn a doctorate at Georgia Tech but just used the university’s computer facilities. Barrera’s attorneys also say that Pasadena College does not offer a master’s degree in computer science. Four Seasons provided Venegas’ purported master’s degree diploma to the court. The only problem is that the listed date of Venegas master’s graduation from Pasadena College is 1978 a year before Venegas graduated from high school, according to a separate deposition by Venegas. “Like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ which keeps getting stranger and stranger, defendants’ continuing investigation of Mr. Venegas has revealed additional bizarre facts about this individual,” Barrera’s attorneys say in court papers. Venegas also had an Internet site related to a company he apparently runs and owns called Broncove Records Studios, according to Barrera’s attorneys. On the Web site, which has since been taken down, Venegas stated that he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in music technology and from White Water University with a Ph.D. in computer science. But Barrera’s lawyers say that UCLA does not offer a degree in music technology, and that they have not been able to locate any White Water University. According to court records, the only establishment with that name is a water theme park in Iowa. “It is now abundantly clear that Mr. Venegas is a pathological liar and perhaps even suffers from delusions of grandeur,” Barrera says in a court filing. Venegas could not be reached for comment. Barrera is asking Judge Moore that Venegas and the Four Seasons be reported to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami for alleged perjury and falsification of evidence. But the Four Seasons is sticking by Venegas. On Sept. 5, U.S. Magistrate Judge John J. Sullivan held a hearing on Barrera’s motion to lift Judge Middlebrooks’ injunction. The Four Seasons’ attorneys said Venegas would be called to testify on Sept. 20, when a second hearing is scheduled. According to an employee reached at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, Venegas no longer works for the hotel chain. The employee declined to say when and under what circumstances Venegas left. The Four Seasons manages 55 hotel properties in 25 countries, according to its Internet site. It plans to open a high-rise hotel on Brickell Avenue in Miami next year.

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