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“The Truth Turns Out to Be Ugly”: How Paul, Weiss Tried to Thwart Reporting on the Caesars Palace Collapse

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Take a quick spin through the home page of Paul, Weiss, the prominent and highly profitable Wall Street law firm, and you will find reference to Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. attorney general and former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who joined Paul, Weiss as a litigation partner in 2019. The firm’s website highlights Lynch’s appearance on a recent episode of Washington Post Live discussing race and criminal justice reform. There is also an article from The American Lawyer featuring Ted Wells, another Black litigation partner at the firm, for his lifetime achievement and for being one of his generation’s foremost trial lawyers. (Among other high-profile cases, Wells wrote the report for his client the National Football League about Tom Brady and “Deflategate.”) 

If you dig a little deeper into the website, you can find references to the firm’s chairman Brad Karp as an outspoken defender of civil rights, including his role in highlighting the problem of voter suppression. In December 2019, at the 105th annual New York County Lawyers Association dinner, Karp received the William Nelson Cromwell Award. In his acceptance speech that night, Karp spoke about his and Paul, Weiss’s ongoing commitment to upholding the rule of law and the Constitution. “Yes, we are fighting to safeguard important constitutional principles and to protect our system of justice,” he said. “But we cannot forget that we are also fighting to protect the liberties and freedoms of the most vulnerable among us.”

What you won’t find on the Paul, Weiss website is any reference to how Karp and Paul, Weiss treated Sujeet Indap and Max Frumes, the coauthors of a new book, The Caesars Palace Coup, about the “billionaire brawl” that resulted from the failed $31 billion 2008 leveraged buyout of Harrah’s Entertainment, then the largest gaming business in the world. The two private-equity firms that took Harrah’s private, TPG Capital and Apollo Global Management, paid a 31% premium for the casino company just before the onset of the 2008 financial crisis and later renamed the company Caesars Entertainment. The main driver behind the LBO was Marc Rowan, a cofounder of Apollo who recently ascended to become Apollo’s CEO after the sudden departure last month of Leon Black, following Black’s head-scratching interactions with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. 

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Karp and Paul, Weiss have worked with Apollo closely for years, a relationship so deep and intertwined that when a committee of the Apollo board of directors asked Dechert, another Wall Street law firm, to investigate Black’s relationship with Epstein—a probe that revealed that Black had paid Epstein $158 million over the years, purportedly for his advice on tax-structuring and other issues—Paul, Weiss was part of Dechert’s probe, assisting in the collection of more than 60,000 records and documents for Dechert, and was presumably a witness in it since Paul, Weiss had worked for Apollo and had also worked for Black and his family office. (Dechert noted interviewing “current and former legal counsel.”)

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The Caesars Palace Coup recounts in exquisite detail the extraordinary lengths that Rowan and David Sambur, his Apollo partner, went to stave off the inevitable bankruptcy filing of Caesars in 2015, and the extraordinary lengths they went to during the two-year bankruptcy process to try to salvage their investment. Much to their chagrin, Rowan and Sambur found themselves in a losing battle against some of the most aggressive hedge funds, among them Oaktree Capital Management and Appaloosa Management, for control of the Caesars carcass.

Like any good journalists, Frumes, who leads a news team at Fitch Solutions covering corporate debt and restructuring, and Indap, who has worked for Financial Times since 2013, after a stint at Lazard as an investment banker, plowed through the public records about both the original LBO and the subsequent bankruptcy filing. The publicly available records were extensive, thanks to the bankruptcy court, and because of the appointment of an examiner, Richard J. Davis, who probed deeply into Rowan’s extraordinary capacity for financial jujitsu. The two journalists also sought to interview as many of the principals involved in the buyout and the bankruptcy as possible. Naturally, some of the people involved said yes, while others declined. The authors say they interviewed close to 200 people for the book.

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The request for an interview was what brought the two men to Karp’s door. Paul, Weiss’s involvement with Apollo exploded after the spring of 2011, when it hired a group of lawyers from O’Melveny & Myers who had represented Apollo during the original Harrah’s LBO, according to Davis’s report. Since that time, according to the report, Paul, Weiss represented the Caesars operating company “in virtually every transaction” that Davis investigated, and represented Caesars’s holding company, which was controlled by Apollo and TPG and that owned 100% of the operating company. Davis added that “[d]uring this entire period Apollo also was a very significant client of Paul Weiss on matters unrelated to Caesars.” Davis devoted a section of his report’s executive summary to Paul, Weiss, some of which included the multiple, apparently conflicting roles in the case. “The section proved to be as explosive as any allegations made toward Apollo,” the authors wrote in their book.

Starting in 2019, Frumes reached out to the one or two Paul, Weiss partners he knew, asking for an interview, Indap tells me. Indap emailed Paul, Weiss’s internal communications representative, also asking for help arranging for interviews with the Paul, Weiss attorneys involved in the Caesars case. Through much of 2019, Indap heard nothing back. Frumes heard from an attorney he knew at Paul, Weiss who said that they couldn’t or weren’t willing to participate in the book.

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Given the importance of Paul, Weiss to the Caesars story, Indap says, in July 2019, he decided to try again to get Paul, Weiss to participate. He emailed Karp directly. According to Indap, Karp responded quickly and offered to meet with the two journalists. Indap says he and Frumes met with Karp in September 2019 at the Paul, Weiss offices on Sixth Avenue. Indap says they explained their project to Karp and to Lewis Clayton, another Paul, Weiss partner who was involved in the transactions after the Caesars LBO and in the subsequent bankruptcy proceeding. They offered Paul, Weiss the chance to share its side of the story, if the firm wanted to do so. Indap says that Paul Verbinnen, an outside public relations expert, also attended the meeting at Paul, Weiss on behalf of the law firm.

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