An Australian businessman has apologised “unreservedly” for false accusations he made against the former executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.
Tibor Vertes, presented as one of a “very esteemed” panel of speakers at a Progressive Labour Party forum on gaming in May last year, was sued by Richard Schuetz after he was smeared in an e-mail from the Australian to former premier Michael Dunkley.
Mr Vertes wrote in his apology that the statements he made “were based on information that had been given to me by third parties”.
He added: “I now believe the information to be incorrect. The statements I made were therefore unjustified and unsubstantiated.”
Mr Schuetz took legal action after Mr Vertes made “highly critical statements” in the e-mail.
The e-mail, also copied to then MPs Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell, was circulated in the gambling world and Mr Vertes accepted it “damaged Mr Schuetz’s good name and reputation”.
The civil case against Mr Vertes was dropped after the written apology.
Mr Schuetz, who resigned from the commission in July last year and left the island last month, told The Royal Gazette: “I applaud Mr Vertes for doing the right thing and allowing this issue to be resolved.”
Mr Schuetz and Mr Vertes met on January 18 last year at a lunch in the Café Lido restaurant at Elbow Beach.
He was asked to attend by Roland Andy Burrows, the chief investment officer of the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
Restaurateur Jacky Di Meglio, of the MEF Group, which owns Café Lido, and a lawyer from New Jersey were also at the lunch.
One Bermuda Alliance MP Mr Pettingill introduced Mr Vertes to Mr Dunkley through an e-mail on February 7.
Mr Vertes e-mailed the Premier the next day to criticise new fees for casino operators on the island, which passed in the House of Assembly despite an attack on them by Mr Pettingill and independent MP Mr Crockwell.
Mr Vertes, who described himself as a consultant to the MEF Group, included disparaging remarks and false allegations about Mr Schuetz in the e-mail.
He falsely claimed Mr Schuetz had predicted in a podcast that it would take ten years to set up Bermuda’s casino industry and $25 million a year to regulate it.
During the House debate on the casino fees only five days earlier, Mr Pettingill several times claimed the commission had suggested $25 million a year for a “regulatory framework” and ten years for industry implementation.
The claims were echoed by PLP MP Zane DeSilva.
But Mr Schuetz had never made such a claim on a podcast or anywhere else and in the lawsuit filed against Mr Vertes he said the attribution of this comment to him suggested his conduct was “farcical” and that he was unable to do his job.
Mr Schuetz said: “It is terribly upsetting to read a complete fabrication attributed to me and I was committed to demonstrating that it was not true. That mission is now accomplished.”
Casino fees sparked a public row between the gaming commission and Mr Pettingill and Mr Crockwell.
Mr Vertes’s e-mail was forwarded to the media by Mr Crockwell on March 23 last year.
Mr Crockwell, who has since died, claimed that Mr Vertes, whom he described as an Australian “casino expert”, had approached him and Mr Pettingill to discuss concerns that the fees were too high.
The e-mail forwarded by Mr Crockwell to the media was an edited version of the original with much of the defamatory material removed — though the politician did not reveal that.
Mr Crockwell wrote: “Mr Vertes is not a client of ours and we have absolutely no business relationship with him. He e-mailed the Premier to recount his meeting with Mr Schuetz on January 18 and the concerns that he raised.
“For full transparency, I will forward the e-mail and hope that the relevant portions will be reported as it corroborates the issues that both I and Mr Pettingill have raised.
“This is our responsibility as parliamentarians and to suggest that our statements are motivated by self-interest is simply wrong.”
Mr Schuetz said he was unsure why Mr Vertes tried to discredit him but suggested it was linked to his recommendation to the Government to cancel an agreement with MM&I Holdings — an island firm involved in a bid to win a cashless gaming contract worth tens of millions of dollars a year. The OBA Government entered into the MM&I agreement on the recommendation of Mr Crockwell, when he was tourism minister, and Mr Pettingill, when he was the Attorney-General.
The law firm set up by Mr Pettingill, of which Mr Crockwell was a director, represents MM&I.
Representatives from MM&I’s partner firm, Banyan Gaming, appeared on the same panel as Mr Vertes at the PLP forum at Elbow Beach on May 3 last year, which Mr DeSilva, now the sports minister, helped organise. David Burt, now the Premier, introduced the panellists as “very esteemed”.
Mr Schuetz said: “I had become somewhat accustomed to people attacking me, especially politicians, and especially after I requested that the memorandum of understanding with MM&I be cancelled, and after I insisted on anti-corruption measures being included in amendments to the Gaming Act.
“I just assumed that this was more of that.”
He pointed out that the comments falsely attributed to him by Mr Vertes had earlier been spoken about by Mr Pettingill in the House of Assembly.
He said it was interesting that Mr Pettingill introduced Mr Vertes to Mr Dunkley, that Mr Pettingill and Mr Crockwell were copied in on the defamatory e-mail and that Mr Pettingill’s law firm represented Mr Vertes in the libel case.
Mr Schuetz added: “If this is all coincidence, it is an amazing coincidence.”
Mr Vertes could not be contacted for comment, but his lawyer Dennis Dwyer, of Chancery Legal, said in an e-mail: “This matter was resolved in confidence. No comment.”
Mr Pettingill also declined to comment.
Mr Schuetz’s lawsuit said Teresa Chatfield, a director of MEF, was also sent a copy of the email sent to Mr Dunkley.
Ms Chatfield said: “Mr Vertes was never employed as a consultant by MEF or any part of the group.
“He is therefore also not now employed by the group. MEF has no plans to apply for a casino licence.”
Mr Burrows said he was introduced to Mr Vertes at the Café Lido lunch last January and it was the first time he had met him. He said he was invited to the lunch by Mr Di Meglio, who arranged it on behalf of MEF.
Mr Burrows said: “Mr Vertes had and has no relationship with the BTA, to my knowledge.”
Vertes hits headlines in homeland
Australian Tibor Vertes styled himself as a gaming expert when he visited Bermuda last year but media reports on his most recent business dealings focus on other areas.
He has hit the headlines for alleged shoddy employment practices at a café he owns in Sydney and for failed companies he has been closely involved with.
In his e-mail to Michael Dunkley in February 2017, Mr Vertes described himself as a barrister and solicitor, who was involved in the casino industry in the 1990s in the United States and in Australia.
He told the Premier he was visiting the island as consultant for the MEF Group of restaurants to “assist in their anticipated effort to apply for a local gaming licence”.
Teresa Chatfield, from the MEF Group, told The Royal Gazette: “Mr Vertes was never employed as a consultant by MEF or any part of the group. He is therefore also not now employed by the group. MEF has no plans to apply for a casino licence.”
According to Australian news reports, Mr Vertes and his company Robit Nominees were accused last February of unlawfully requiring an Italian cook employed on a visa at his Sydney café to pay back thousands of dollars of her wages.
Legal action against Mr Vertes and the company was launched by the Fair Work Ombudsman in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney.
Robit Nominees has since gone into liquidation, according to published government notices.
A 2014 article in The Sunday Telegraph details how the same café — Bar Coluzzi in Darlinghurst — was, prior to April 2012, partially funded by the family trust of Rodney Adler, a crook who was jailed for his role in Australia’s biggest corporate collapse of HIH Insurance.
Mr Vertes, a separate financier of the business, told the newspaper he was unhappy having money in the same business as Adler and encouraged his partner at the café to oust him.
Mr Vertes was chairman of Oceanlinx, a wave energy developer which went into receivership in April 2014, according to various news reports in Australia.
His LinkedIn profile says he was founder and chief executive officer of the Gaming & Entertainment Group, from 1995 to 2006, a “leading provider of innovative gaming products”.
Shawn Crockwell said in a statement last March that Mr Vertes was an Australian casino expert who got in touch with him and his Chancery Legal law firm partner Mark Pettingill to discuss proposed fees for casino operators.
Mr Crockwell said Mr Vertes was “not a client of ours and we have absolutely no business relationship with him”.
Chancery Legal later represented Mr Vertes in the civil suit brought against him by Richard Schuetz.
• This article was amended after Roland Andy Burrows contacted The Royal Gazette to say he attended the lunch meeting with Mr Schuetz and Mr Vertes after being invited by Jacky Di Meglio on behalf of MEF.
• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.