Japanese investor claims he was defrauded to contribute $3.4M to purchase ship
The U.S. Marshals Service seized yesterday afternoon the controversial cargo ship M/V Luta after Japanese investor Takahisa Yamamoto filed a lawsuit in federal court against Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog and some owners of the ship for allegedly refusing to pay back the $3.4 million he put up for the vessel.
Three deputy marshals, accompanied by Yamamoto counsel George Lloyd Hasselback, boarded a small boat to serve the arrest order on a crewman of M/V Luta, which was anchored in the channel near Smiling Cove Marina and Port of Saipan.
After Yamamoto filed the lawsuit yesterday, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona directed the U.S. Marshals Service to “arrest” the 146.5-by-38-foot 237 gross ton M/V Luta.
Manglona also commanded the U.S. Marshal Service to “arrest” the ship’s engines, furniture, tackle, appurtenances, and other necessaries.
Aside from Hocog, Yamamoto is also suing M/V Luta, Luta Mermaid LLC, Abelina T. Mendiola, Deron T. Mendiola, Fidel S. Mendiola III, Fidel Mendiola Jr., and Robert Toelkes.
Yamamoto, through Hasselback, is suing them for breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment.
Yamamoto asked the court that the vessel be condemned and sold to pay his demands, including interest and costs.
Yamamoto is also demanding attorney’s fees, expenses, and court costs.
The plaintiff asked the court to order defendants provide a complete and accurate accounting of the disposition of any and all funds he contributed to them for the purchase and operation of M/V Luta.
Luta Mermaid LLC owns M/V Luta.
According to Hasselback in the lawsuit, Abelina Mendiola, Deron Mendiola, and Fidel Mendiola III are managers/shareholders of Luta Mermaid.
Hasselback said that beginning in 2013, Yamamoto began to visit Rota as a tourist and that over the course of several trips, he began to grow very fond of the island.
Hasselback said that sometime in 2013, certain defendants approached Yamamoto about funding the purchase and operation of a commercial shipping vessel to be used to service Rota.
Hasselback said that in January 2014, Yamamoto first funded the business by providing $700,000 to Kizuna Marine Inc., an entity under the control of the defendants.
Certain defendants then told Yamamoto that another company, Luta Mermaid LLC, had to be formed to purchase the vessel.
In June 2014, Yamamoto advanced another $600,000 to the Luta Mermaid LLC, Hasselback said.
Yamamoto then loaned Luta Mermaid an additional $682,000 and advanced another $690,000 to the company, Hasselback said.
In January 2016, Yamamoto transferred another $109,000 to Luta Mermaid.
Hasselback said certain defendants asked Yamamoto again for more money last May, but he declined to give any more.
The lawyer said to date, M/V Luta has not been operated in a commercially reasonable manner in order to maximize the potential for commercial gain in order to reimburse Yamamoto for his contributions to the purchase, outfitting and operation of the ship.
Hasselback said the defendants have not reasonably maintained the ship and have not paid the wages of the sailors assigned to the vessel.
Hasselback said of the $3,414,000 in advances and/or loans that Yamamoto contributed, approximately $1,982,000 was provided to the ship for necessaries.
Last May, former Department of Public Lands secretary John DelRosario filed a taxpayer’s lawsuit against Hocog and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson over the alleged adoption of a Rota Legislative Delegation Resolution 19-3 without public notice that purportedly authorized payment of $400,000 to Luta Mermaid, a private company owned by Hocog’s relatives.