Dustin Johnson is seeking punitive and compensatory damages stemming from a $3 million loan to one of his former advisers that cascaded into a possible RICO conspiracy violation, GolfChannel.com has learned.
In a copy of the lawsuit, which was obtained by GolfChannel.com before an Atlanta judge sealed the filing, Johnson’s lawyers outline 17 counts of possible racketeering, wire fraud and negligence violations.
The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 28 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, stems from a $3 million loan made by Johnson to the Morris Firm at the urging of Nathan Hardwick, a partner with the firm who also served on the board of Johnson’s foundation and was listed on the player’s website as a member of “Dustin’s Team” and his “attorney/counselor.”
According to the lawsuit, Hardwick convinced Johnson the loan was “a really good investment,” and offered the eight-time PGA Tour winner a guaranteed return of $1 million that would be repaid in monthly installments.
On Aug. 6, Johnson wired the $3 million to Hardwick and the Morris Firm, and on Aug. 27 allegations that Hardwick had embezzled $30 million from the firm became public, the lawsuit states.
In the lawsuit, Johnson’s attorneys claim the loan “was in fact needed to fund the firm’s day-to-day operations” and that “Johnson was the target of this ill-conceived scheme.”
When the firm failed to make the first two loan payments to Johnson in September and October he requested the full payment of the loan. Mark and Rod Wittstadt, who are partners with the Morris Firm, “threatened to disclose private and confidential information about Johnson ... should he commence a lawsuit to seek repayment of the money,” the lawsuit claims.
According to the suit, no payments have been made to Johnson for the loan.
Johnson’s manager with Hambric Sports declined to comment on the lawsuit and in a statement made to HousingWire.com, the Wittstadts “vehemently deny the allegations of wrongdoing made against them. Although they have not yet been served, they are preparing appropriate legal motions and are confident that the misplaced claims against them will fail.”
In late July, Johnson announced he was taking a leave of absence from golf to seek help for personal challenges, and on Aug. 1 Golf.com reported Johnson had been suspended by the Tour for six months after failing his third drug test.
Johnson, who denied failing a drug test or having been suspended, has not played a Tour event since the RBC Canadian Open and according to his manager he doesn’t plan to return to competition until next year after his fiancée Paulina Gretzky gives birth to the couple’s first child.
Two days after filing the lawsuit – which requests the court order an injunction for a trust to protect Johnson’s original investment of $3 million – judge Steve Jones partially granted a request by Hardwick and the Wittstadts’ attorneys to seal the file.