Published October 24, 2007
As David Copperfield faces allegations of sexual assault, there are some who would argue that "Copperfield the Conjurer" is also a con — that the world-famous illusionist sank to playing dirty tricks in order to buy the super-exclusive Bahamian island where the alleged rape occurred.
That was the claim from Blockbuster Video co-founder John Melk, who once owned the property known as Musha Cay and says he was duped into selling it to Copperfield.
Melk sued Copperfield in 2004 for fraud. In federal court documents filed in Nevada, an angered Melk accused the world's 13th highest paid performer of identity illusion in his quest to buy the gorgeous resort visited by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Faith Hill and John Travolta.
Court papers reveal that in 1995, Melk purchased the Bahamian paradise and put his heart, soul and finances ($55 million) into developing the property.
In 2002, Melk decided to sell Musha Cay, but he insisted that any potential buyer have adequate cash and experience in managing a luxury resort.
The lawsuit states that in October 2002, representatives for Copperfield expressed interest in Musha Cay. But not only was Melk concerned about Copperfield's financial ability to develop the property and maintain its superior quality, he thought the magic man lacked the experience to manage the resort. And then there were the rumors ...
In the federal legal papers filed by Melk, it states, "he (Copperfield) has been the subject of numerous rumors concerning his personal lifestyle and relationships, the collapse of a restaurant called "Magic Underground," and his alleged ties with the Russian Mafia. Mr. Copperfield denies some, but not all, of these rumors. These rumors or allegations whether or not true, caused Plaintiffs significant concern, as their mere existence could have an adverse impact on the operations of Musha Cay."
According to a 2005 article in the Chicago Sun Times, Copperfield decided to handle rumor control on his own, through his Web site.
Copperfield said he "can't deny" that the Russian mob once held his professional equipment hostage. He denied claims that he is gay. (Copperfield once sued Paris Match Magazine for insinuating that his relationship with supermodel Claudia Schiffer was a "set-up" in order to maintain the appearance that he is straight. Copperfield claims he won that legal battle.)
His efforts to buy Musha Cay, however, were not so victorious. In a desperate attempt to secure the island, Copperfield even solicited the help of rock musician Lenny Kravitz, who is related to the former prime minister of the Bahamas.
Court documents reveal that Copperfield asked Kravitz to "speak to the prime minister," and pleaded with the rock star to keep his involvement secret. "It is imperative that it remains secret until the deal is signed," Copperfield wrote.
Ultimately, Melk stated that he was willing to allow Copperfield to be an investor in the property — but with no right to manage it. Copperfield declined. And here's where the alleged trickery begins.
In December 2002, partners in a firm called Island Group of Companies Ltd. made an offer to buy Musha Cay. According to court filings, an attorney for IGC claimed he represented only the interests of the company's partners, Christian Jagodzinski and Michael Gleisner.
IGC proved through financial records that it had luxury resort management experience in Fiji, and Melk determined the firm had sufficient finances based on records provided by Morgan Stanley.
On Dec. 9, 2003, ICG and Melk made a deal for Musha Cay. About a week later, Melk received a call. It was the grand illusionist telling Melk that it was he — not Jagodzinski and Gleisner — who had purchased the resort. Melk was stunned.
According to the federal documents, Copperfield then sent a letter to Melk.
"As I stated to you on the telephone, I am currently the owner of Imagine Nation Company, the entity to acquire Musha Cay," writes Copperfield.
Copperfield told Melk that the acquisition of Musha Cay had been a "strawman" purchase … a transaction in which the identity of the purchaser is deliberately concealed.
In his federal lawsuit, Melk said he never would have sold the property if the true identity of the buyer, Copperfield, had not been concealed. He accused Copperfield of fraud and argued that "strawman" purchases were illegal in both the Bahamas and Nevada. Copperfield in turn argued that Melk simply suffered from seller's remorse.
Melk sued in 2004, but the case wasn't settled until 2006. The terms of the settlement are undisclosed, and calls to the lawyers involved have not been returned.
Now the magic man is being accused of rape — on the very Bahamian property Copperfield so desperately wanted to own. The incident allegedly happened in June, and the accuser did not file a police report on the island, but in Seattle. The case is now being investigated by the FBI, which raided Copperfield's private warehouse in Nevada. Reps for Copperfield emphatically deny he's involved in any wrongdoing.
He made the Statue of Liberty disappear. Now for his next trick? It will take pure fact and great lawyers to conjure Copperfield out of this mess.