Today on Wall Street's version of the Jerry Springer Show, the saga of a former Sequoia Capital partner and an exotic dancer has finally come to an end, to some degree exonerating Michael Goguen after nearly a half decade of false claims and drummed up #MeToo-style publicity that cost him his career.
A Superior Court Judge in California ruled in favor of Michael Goguen and found that his former mistress, Amber Laurel Baptiste had committed fraud and extortion by threatening to publicize false claims about Goguen, including that he gave her an STD, according to Bloomberg. The judge ordered Baptiste to pay back $10.25 million she had gotten from Goguen after a three day trial that she didn't attend.
The court also granted Goguen a restraining order.
Baptiste has until next week to file an objection to the ruling or it becomes final and ends the saga that ruined Goguen's 20 year career at one of the world's most prestigious venture capital firms. Baptiste's allegations surfaced right around the same time as the #MeToo movement, which brought heightened scrutiny unto Goguen.
Baptiste says she stands by her claims and expects to file an objection to the ruling. She said she has already spent $5 million of the money Goguen gave her on legal fees and is in the process of hiring her sixth attorney. “I will continue to fight this all the way to the end,” she commented.
Goguen says the ruling ends a "heartbreaking and devastating" chapter in his life and says many of his friends have treated him "like a leper" since the allegations became public in 2016.
“I’ve become jaded,” he said, noting that he couldn't even celebrate the ruling as a victory due to the toll the legal process had taken on his life.
Goguen had previously worked on finding and funding technology startups that specialized in networking and cybersecurity for Sequoia. Goguen struck it rich with sales of some of these companies to names like Cisco Systems. But Baptiste's suit in 2016 had immediate implications: Goguen was taken off the company website and was removed from the boards of 11 companies.
And despite Sequoia noting that they were "unproven and unrelated" allegations at the time, they said they had "decided his departure was appropriate," according to the firm.
Goguen met Baptiste in a strip club in Dallas in 2002 where she was working. They then began spending time together and, in 2014, Goguen paid Baptiste $10 million to sever communication and keep the details of their affair under wraps. Baptiste claimed in 2016 that Goguen sexually abused her for more than a decade, infected her with an STD, and then reneged on a promise to pay her $40 million.
Goguen countersued, claiming the affair was consensual and that Baptiste was extorting him. Goguen said he stopped paying because she broke her end of the deal by continuing to contact him. Baptiste soon left her attorney and claimed that Goguen's lawyers were working with a PI to spy on her.
Last year, Goguen beat Baptiste in court before it went to trial when a judge ruled that Baptiste failed to provide evidence of her claims and/or undergo examinations required by the court. In deciding Goguen's countersuit in December, another judge ruled that Baptiste had forged the date and results of medical tests to try and prove her case. He found that Goguen had agreed to pay her to simply keep her false allegations out of the media spotlight.
The same judge also found that Baptiste solicited donations from Goguen for a non-profit she established, called Every Girl Counts. The organization was supposed to help feed, clothe and shelter 36 girls, but Baptiste could not prove these services and, instead, spent more than $40,000 of the non-profit's funds to "to commission fantasy paintings of herself, according to the ruling."
As for Goguen, who clearly got the short end of the stick in the deal having lost his career due to false allegations, what is his consolation prize?
Firms still won't work with him.
Goguen said the conclusion had the opposite effect of what he expected. Silicon Valley Bank and an angel investing group refused to work with him because, even though the allegations weren’t true, they didn’t want to invite negative news coverage, Goguen said.
Goguen hopes the new ruling puts the matter to rest. He said if Baptiste pays back the money, he’ll donate it to charity. Goguen is now focused on his Montana-based VC firm, Two Bear Capital. He said he contributed $15 million to the initial fund, which has backed seven startups. He has no plans to return to Sequoia or Silicon Valley.
At the risk of sounding too simplistic and old fashioned, the moral of the story today seems to simply be: If you're rich, steer clear of starting long-term relationships with strippers.
Oh, and if you're a stripper that's extorted $10 million from a customer, maybe it's time to retire and walk away with your chips instead of pressing your luck.