SAN DIEGO — Top officials with Oracle Team USA knew grinder Matt Mitchell didn't illegally alter a catamaran used in warmup regattas and yet let a rules-breaking sailor compete in the 2013 America's Cup, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco.
Mitchell, of Auckland, New Zealand, is suing Oracle Team USA for $400,000 in damages. Mitchell, one of several Oracle sailors punished in the biggest cheating scandal in the regatta's history, was suspended for the first four races of the match, effectively ending his America's Cup career.
Mitchell contends OTUSA management knew grinder Simeon Tienpont broke rules yet let him sail. Tienpont operated the complicated hydrofoil system. He and skipper Jimmy Spithill were the two crewmen most responsible for Oracle's stunning comeback victory over Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay.
"The very kernel of the lawsuit is that Oracle knew that Matt hadn't put the resin in the kingpost," Mitchell's attorney, Patricia Barlow of San Francisco, said Saturday. "We're just trying to seek justice for Matt Mitchell, who was thrown under the bus."
Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, a five-time Cup winner, felt Mitchell was innocent, according to exhibits in the lawsuit.
The scandal broke when it was discovered that ballast was illegally added to catamarans sailed by Oracle Team USA in warmup regattas called the America's Cup World Series. Coutts sent Mitchell a letter in August 2014, apparently for him to use in his appeal to the International Sailing Federation's Disciplinary Commission.
"I do not believe Matthew was involved in filling the BAR forward king post with approximately 1.5 kg of lead and resin in violation of the aC45 Class Rule," Coutts wrote. "It is my clear belief and understanding that Simeon Tienpont poured the resin into the kingpost. In my opinion Matthew was wrongly penalized."
Coutts said in the letter that Oracle conducted "a prompt internal enquirey and insisted that all personnel fully cooperate with the International Jury in its own investigations and further hearings."
Oracle was docked two points in the standings in the match against Emirates Team New Zealand. It fell behind 8-1 but won the final eight races in one of the biggest comebacks in sports.
The lawsuit contains copies of texts from Coutts' wife, Jenny, and Luciana Corral, personal assistant to Oracle Team USA general manager Grant Simmer, to Mitchell's wife, Andrea, in early September 2013, before and after the harshest penalties in Cup history were announced.
One of the texts from Jenny Coutts said, "Poor Matt he must b wondering why in earth he carried on!! ... and as Russell says he certainly wasn't to blame!!!"
Andrew Mitchell texted to Corral: "...Simeon better being (sic) going down for this !!"
Corral responded: "Don't worry about Simenon (sic) , he's getting a team penalty"
Andrea Mitchell texted to Corral: "The jury should be fired for the way the (sic) have handled this thing
Corral responded: "We are waiting till they announce the penalties to get back at them, we don't want the team pressure to negative (sic) affect the decision on the individuals, the jury is useless !!!! Unbelievable !!"
Mitchell's lawsuit says that after Oracle was told it was under investigation by the international jury, Coutts held a team meeting and threatened to fire anyone who discussed the cheating allegations, even with their wives or girlfriends.
"Apparently Coutts used a very threatening tone and was ranting and raving at the team members," the lawsuit said.
Tienpont admitted pouring resin into the kingpost.
Citing transcripts of testimony to the jury, Tienpont "did not know where Matthew Mitchell was when he put the resin in the king post."
Simmer was never called by the jury as a witness. He was interviewed by jurors Graham McKenzie and Bryan Willis and, according to the lawsuit, "stated that he thought that he knew who had filled the kingpost." However, the suit says Simmer was either never asked who he thought filled the kingpost or his response was not reflected in the interview notes.
Coutts declined comment.
Mitchell has also sued Oracle Team USA in state court seeking $68,000 spent on legal fees fighting the cheating allegations. He's also asked the International Sailing Federation to investigate Tienpont for gross misconduct.
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