A fraud lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg that had lingered for almost two years came to a swift end Tuesday, six weeks before the billionaire would have had to explain his version of events to a jury.
The developer who sued the Facebook Inc. founder over a real estate deal agreed to drop the case in exchange only for a guarantee that Zuckerberg won’t sue him.
The settlement marks an abrupt change of course for Mircea Voskerician as lawyers for both sides were preparing for an April 25 state court trial in San Jose. The suit revealed e-mails from Zuckerberg, his wife, a close financial adviser and his real-estate agent, among others. The messages showed Zuckerberg met with Voskerician and, the developer argued, supported his claim that the billionaire reneged on a promise to help him build his business.
That deal involved Zuckerberg paying for the rights to buy the property behind his Palo Alto, California, home for $1.7 million after Voskerician threatened to build a mansion that would have a view of Zuckerberg’s home. Voskerician claimed that was a discounted price, saying he gave Zuckerberg a deal in exchange for a promise to introduce him to a desirable pool of potential customers, Silicon Valley’s technology elite.
The case began to unravel last year as lawyers representing Zuckerberg pressed to learn how Voskerician would have paid for the home construction. The lawyers seized on what they said was “doctored evidence” in a fraudulent bank statement Voskerician produced to prove his financial wherewithal to develop the property.
“Mr. Voskerician’s decision to abandon his lawsuit confirms what we have always maintained, that his claims lacked merit and his case was nothing more than a fraudulent attempt to extort millions of dollars from Mr. Zuckerberg,” Patrick Gunn, a lawyer for Zuckerberg, wrote in an e-mailed statement. “We are pleased this years-long harassment has come to an end and that the plaintiff will see no financial gain from his misconduct.”
Voskerician’s first lawyer withdrew from the case in October, citing California’s ethics rules for lawyers without providing details about the conflict between him and his client.
His second lawyer, Guyton Jinkerson, filed a request for dismissal of the case Tuesday.
“My client and I have reviewed the factual and legal premises that his former counsel pursued,” Jinkerson said. “Upon careful reflection we determined that this case should be resolved and we worked with counsel for the defendants to reach an equitable settlement of this matter. We are pleased that the parties have been able to bring an end to this litigation.”
The final blow to the case came last month when Jinkerson revealed in a court filing that Voskerician faces a criminal probe by the Internal Revenue Service over the $1.7 million sale to Zuckerberg.
Voskerician invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination to shield himself from answering whether he falsified the bank statement, a position Jinkerson said in a court filing was made on advice from attorneys in the criminal tax matter.
Zuckerberg’s lawyers pushed for a court order requiring Voskerician to answer questions about the bank statement. Jinkerson sought the dismissal before the judge handling the matter ruled on the request.
The case is Voskerician v. Zuckerberg, 1-14-CV-264667, Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara (San Jose).