Caso Chevron

Carroll: Boulder's Stratus Consulting and the jungle crooks

The Denver Post - Vincent Carroll 27/07/2015

If participating in an international conspiracy to defraud an oil company isn't enough to ruin your reputation, what would do it?

The question arises because work by Stratus Consulting of Boulder — exposed for shameful conduct in Ecuador — is once again at the center of a dispute over a pollution settlement, this time on the East Coast. Environmental critics of a settlement between New Jersey and Exxon-Mobil say it is too low and cite a study by Stratus nearly 10 years ago that reached a vastly higher damage estimate.

You'd think any such work would be radioactive. After all, Stratus is an outfit that figured in one of the biggest attempted shakedowns in modern history, according to an opinion last year by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in Manhattan.

Kaplan's lengthy ruling got very little attention in the Colorado news media, despite the local angle. But it deserves a second look. Not only is the case on appeal, but Stratus — which merged with Abt Associates this year — is a going concern with major contracts, and is still led by the man who was chief during the Ecuadorean escapade.

For the Boulder consultants, the story begins in 2007 when buccaneer attorney Steven Donziger arrived in town to meet with Stratus' president, Josh Lipton, and others concerning longstanding litigation on behalf of rainforest peasants. The plaintiffs had sued over oil spills that occurred in the 1970s and '80s when Texaco, which Chevron later bought, was operating there. Donziger enlisted Stratus' environmental expertise.

But Kaplan would detail a web of corruption, including bribery, involving Donziger's team, with Stratus ghostwriting a decisive report for a supposedly independent expert — Richard Cabrera — that was supplied to the court.

In other words, Cabrera was a puppet of the plaintiffs' team. As Kaplan explained, "Donziger and Stratus personnel exchanged hundreds of e-mails regarding draft outlines of the Cabrera Report ... it is clear that Donziger had the final word on every annex and every piece of the report — even at arriving at the actual damages figures."

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