By Ken Stone
Nine months after a marijuana mogul’s rented “super yacht” vanished from a marina during Comic-Con, court filings reveal who took it — and why.
But now the Rickolts say in a countersuit that the dock master of Fifth Avenue Landing ordered the boat out by 10 a.m. July 22, 2017 — the Saturday of the San Diego Convention Center mega-event.
According to the countersuit, filed April 26 in San Diego Superior Court, McLaughlin and his team violated marina rules on alcohol, drugs and parties.
“Moreover, [the Rickolts] and the yacht crew felt threatened for their safety and the safety of the yacht,” the suit said of the 125-foot Liquidity, which had a three-day rental cost of $42,250.
Attorneys Brandon Saxon and Peter “PJ” Lucca Jr. are suing McLaughlin on behalf of the Rickolts, who did business as Sol Luna Expeditions and San Diego Marine Services.McLaughlin and the staff of BudTrader — called the “Craigslist of weed” — are accused of defamation, slander, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and causing severe emotional distress.
The Rickolts haven’t put a price tag on their injuries, but are seeking special and punitive damages along with attorney and court costs. A jury trial is demanded.
McLaughlin — who lives in Los Angeles County but does business from an Encinitas office — hasn’t responded formally to the countersuit, but his lawyers aren’t taking it lightly.
“The entire cross-complaint is merit-less and not supported by any facts,” attorneys Matthew Blair and Oscar Ramirez said last week via email. “We will be making a motion to dismiss it and then proceed with filing another lawsuit for malicious prosecution.”
The 15-page countersuit — filed the same day that the Rickolts responded to the original January complaint — makes a variety of claims:
- That McLaughlin lied at first to the Rickolts about having a booth at Comic-Con.
- That McLaughlin “intentionally and wrongfully made slanderous and disparaging comments to various individuals, media outlets, reporters, editors, and/or trade magazines … as an intentional publicity stunt … with the purpose of specifically causing damage” to the Rickolts.
- And that the Rickolts suffered severe emotional distress.
Specifically, the countersuit says Gemma Rickolt boarded the yacht about 4:38 p.m. July 20 and observed McLaughlin “intoxicated as he seemed overly sweaty; he struggled to make eye contact and seemed on edge.”
When Gemma walked into the galley, the suit continued, a BudTrader associate named Paul Vara “aggressively confronted her and forcefully said ‘Who the f— are you?!’ His aggressive tone and close proximity to her person was intimidating and caused serious personal injury to [her].”
The countersuit also alleges that the BudTrader team gave out free marijuana joints to the public and passers-by and also pulled people off the boardwalk and brought them onto the yacht to “smoke marijuana and ingest THC edibles.”
About 7 p.m. that Thursday, an “extremely intoxicated” BudTrader associate started to throw guests’ shoes into the water, the suit says, alleging the unnamed person was a radio host from Los Angeles who had interviewed McLaughlin.
Then Vara “ran off the yacht and aggressively grabbed the unidentified radio host by the throat and started choking him,” the suit says. “Vara then threw the radio host’s hat in the water while shouting obscenities for everyone to hear on the dock and on the adjacent boardwalk.”
McLaughlin denies all accusations and responded to a series of questions (see below).The Rickolts also assert the presence of Harbor Police at the marina that opening night of Comic-Con.
“At or around 6:00 p.m. on July 20, 2017, San Diego Harbor Police were called by the marina security,” the suit says. “The Harbor Police approached the yacht and asked Captain RICKOLT and MCLAUGHLIN to tell [McLaughlin] and [his] guests to stop all marijuana smoking because the marijuana smoke and scent was seen and smelled on the boardwalk adjacent to Fifth Avenue Landing where children were present and to stop passing out free marijuana joints. …
“Thereafter, San Diego Harbor Police returned to Fifth Avenue Landing after the unidentified radio host was assaulted by [Vara] and warned [the BudTrader team] to tone down their conduct.”
Last July, a Port District spokeswoman told Times of San Diego: “Harbor Police did not receive any calls or complaints regarding The Liquidity [or] have any interaction with the vessel.”
On Wednesday, a Harbor Police spokesman said he looked through a log of “calls for service” from 4 to 7 p.m. that day.
“I didn’t find anything at that time,” said the spokesman, Sgt. Victor Banuelos.
But he noted an 8:55 p.m. call from a security guard at 600 Convention Way — the marina address — about a physical fight in progress.
“Boat unit didn’t get there until 9:13,” Banuelos said in a phone interview. “And when they got there, they were told that one party had left the area, and that the other one did not want to press any charges. … There was no action taken.”
Banuelos said the log doesn’t indicate which vessel might have been involved in the call for service.
Fifth Avenue Landing didn’t respond to several requests for comment.
On Wednesday, Rickolts lawyer Lucca said: “The Harbor Police are all strewn throughout the harbor. … The timing of the call is … neither here nor there. Or maybe it wasn’t even a call. I don’t know. I don’t have those documents before me.”
In a phone interview, Lucca said he couldn’t comment on any specifics of the countersuit, “but … we look forward to vindicating our client. We look forward to proving our claims in the cross-complaint.”
He had no comment on the opposing legal team’s promised action over malicious prosecution.
But McLaughlin responded to specific claims in the countersuit and shared email, text messages and photos he says back him up.
McLaughlin said via email: “We did nothing wrong and I have nothing to hide and all I want is the truth as to why we were ejected. … If people were being threatened and choked like our yacht was Wrestlemania, wouldn’t the police have been called?”
TIMES OF SAN DIEGO: Did you ever tell anyone you had a booth at Comic-Con?
McLAUGHLIN: No, I did not. The reason we rented the yacht was because we wanted a presence at Comic-Con. If I had a booth, I would have just manned our booth and I wouldn’t have rented a super yacht.
Were you intoxicated when you met with Gemma Rickolt on July 20?
No, I wasn’t. I did not drink during our event and not that it matters but I have not had a sip of alcohol in 10 years. I prefer cannabis.Did Paul Vara ask Gemma: “Who the f— are you?”
Not to my knowledge, and I feel like that is something I would have been told immediately. She attempted to board the yacht and our staff and security inquired to who she was, why she didn’t have a guest pass to our event and how she gained access to our yacht if she didn’t go through the main gate at Fifth Avenue Landing.
I do recall she commended our security staff for being on top of who was coming aboard the yacht. Apparently she had a crew member sail her over in a dinghy and that’s how she got access without going through the main gate. The reason she came was we had a pre-arranged agreement that she would be allowed to attend the event. She wanted to mingle with celebrities and try to get new clients to charter yachts from her and her husband.
Did you or other BudTrader staffers hand out marijuana joints or THC ingestibles aboard the yacht?
To my knowledge, my staff did not provide marijuana or edibles to guests. However many of our guests own marijuana brands and/or are marijuana patients (and which a medicating tent was provided by Fifth Avenue Landing) and every member of my team is willing to acknowledge they are marijuana patients.
I’d like to add that only one incident was reported of a guest attempting to smoke on the outdoor third level of the yacht on the evening on Day 2. The captain asked the guest not to smoke on the yacht and the guest complied. Captain Lake referred to it as “not a big deal” in his report to me later that evening.
Did Paul Vara start to choke a radio host? Who was the radio host?
A guest from the TBS yacht claimed to have a podcast and asked if he could get a media pass and interview me on the front of the boat. I agreed and I gave him a tour of the yacht and did a 15-minute radio interview with him.
Diane Bell from The San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed me next… I did one more interview with a cannabis news organization.
Once I concluded my interviews, I had learned from security that the radio/podcast host had began to drink excessively and act aggressively. He attempted to steal a guest’s belongings and that’s when security ejected him and walked him out of Fifth Avenue Landing’s front gate.
We reported the incident to the individual in charge of the TBS boat and informed them that one of [their] guests had acted inappropriately. We also reported it to Samuel Hamilton, head of Amazon security on the IMDB boat, Fifth Avenue Landing staff and security. I don’t believe Paul was even involved and only our hired security staff was involved.
Did you verbally assault a Fifth Avenue Landing security guard?
No, I did not.
On Friday night, “Arturo” — an 18-year-old security guard employed by Fifth Avenue Landing — informed me that Neil [Wilson] the manager … had informed him that if our guests, my staff or our yacht do one thing wrong he had the power to shut us down.
I assured him he had nothing to worry about and that as long as he was fair with us we wouldn’t have any issues. He began to harass our guests, my staff and the Liquidity yacht almost immediately.
He proceeded to shine his flashlight in guests’ faces. He attempted to get me to eject a women in a wheelchair who happened to be near our yacht on the harbor. I refused and told him it’s not my responsibility to eject people who were on the harbor and that I was only responsible for my guests.
The final straw was when he attempted to take control of our guest list and the clipboard that was attached. He began to shout “Everyone get your IDs out and if your name isn’t on the guest list, YOU’RE OUT OF HERE!”
He attempted to grab our guest list off the yacht ledge at the same time actor Eric Roberts was attempting to board our yacht and our entire guest list and clipboard went into the water.
My corporate counsel was aboard and witnessed the incident. He advised me to inform young Arturo that this was a private event and that his conduct was unacceptable and that if he continued to disrupt our event I would seek damages and legal action against him personally and the security company that employees him.
Arturo informed me he was gong to call Neil and have me shut down and kicked out. At the end of the night around midnight, Arturo asked to speak to me and he apologized.
He admitted he had treated me and my guests unfairly and he believed Neil and Capt. Lake were trying to “railroad” me into being ejected. He promised me that he would give me a glowing review with Neil in his “official report” and even gave me his cell phone number (which I still have) and told me to call him if I needed anything.
Anything else readers should know about the case or countersuit?
There is so much more your readers need to know.
1. The name of the yacht we rented was the Liquidity. The name was changed weeks before our event. There is no record of a yacht called the Liquidity and no information on the name before.
2. I was told by Liquidity staff that the 300-foot, 3-story yacht that was rented by Amazon/IMDB was also owned by the same “yacht owners” as the Liquidity. The Liquidity staff further offered that the pressure to have us ejected had come from Amazon/IMDB and TBS.
3. Gemma had originally quoted me a price of $1,500 for the slip fee, but Neil the manager … said the fee was $3,000 and insisted I pay him cash, which I did. According to Fifth Avenue Landing staff, no official record exists of us renting the slip during Comic-Con weekend.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: