Elle Macpherson accused of helping to cover up husband's role in fatal helicopter crash
Elle Macpherson, the former supermodel, has been accused of taking part in a "conspiracy" to cover up claims that her billionaire husband was piloting a helicopter without a licence when it crashed and killed his best friend.
Macpherson is named in a $100m (€72.5m)wrongful death lawsuit filed in Miami federal court against Jeff Soffer, a hotel and property tycoon, by Daria Valdez, whose husband Lance died in the crash in the Bahamas last November.
The suit claims that Mr Soffer, the owner of Miami's famed Fontainebleau hotel, was "recklessly flying and controlling" the helicopter "without a valid helicopter pilot's licence" when it crashed during an attempted landing at the exclusive Baker's Bay Golf & Ocean Club on Great Guana Cay.
Mr Soffer and four other passengers survived with injuries but Mr Valdez, a successful international tax attorney based in the Bahamas, lost his life in the smash. Mr Soffer's attorney said that the hotelier denies all allegation of wrongdoing and will present his defence in court.
Mr Valdez was one of Mr Soffer's oldest friends and reportedly introduced the Miami hotelier to Macpherson when the Australian was based in London. The couple broke up earlier in 2012 but they reconciled as he recovered from the crash and married in Fiji this July at a luxury resort.
Mrs Valdez lost her husband of 15 years and the father of their three young children in the crash. The lawsuit says that the grieving widow came under intense pressure from Mr Soffer and his associates to sign a release stating that she would not take legal action against anyone else aboard the helicopter in response for accepting a $2m insurance payment.
The lawsuit further contends that it was actually Mr Soffer who was at the controls of the helicopter, not a pilot who was also on board.
Just before the crash, it says that Mr Soffer flew low over a golf course to show off his house and yacht to passengers before hitting wind turbulence as he tried to land. Mr Soffer made immediate arrangements to flee the island while his friend's lifeless body lay in the wreckage, the suit claims.
Macpherson is alleged to have taken part in the cover-up by making calls to a mutual friend of both couples called Charles Holzer, whose mother "Baby Jane" Holzer was one of Andy Warhol's muses.
According to the lawsuit, "Soffer induced … Elle Macpherson to call Charles Holzer … and told him that Soffer was annoyed about Daria's delay in signing the release, telling Holzer that 'Soffer doesn't have to do this you know'".
That call was just one part of a coordinated campaign of "coercive pressure" that according to the lawsuit forced Mrs Valdez to sign the release while "coping with the grief of the loss of the love of her life".
Gary Phillips, her lawyer, said on Wednesday: "She was still grieving and very depressed, she had just lost her husband and was thinking about the future of three young children, and she was not thinking in a calm and relaxed manner."
The lawsuit contends that Mr Soffer was so desperate for Mrs Valdez to accept the deal because he was actually flying the helicopter, even though his pilot's licence only covered fixed-wing aircraft.
The lawsuit names Mr Soffer, his chief operating officer and two other employees as defendants in the alleged conspiracy.
Representatives for Miss Macpherson have declined to comment about the lawsuit. Bob Martinez, the lawyer for Mr Soffer, said in a statement: "Jeff Soffer is very sympathetic to Daria [Dasha] and the children for their grave loss.
He still mourns deeply the death of his good friend Lance Valdez. The Riordan's [co-accused] and Mr Soffer were seriously injured in the accident and are still on a long road to full recovery.
"Throughout the post-accident period, Mr Valdez' wife was represented by several lawyers, including two of the top aviation accident specialists in the nation, who investigated fully the facts of the accident and the applicable law and advised Mrs Valdez to sign the Release.
"Mr Soffer denies all the allegations of wrongdoing contained in the complaint. They are all without any merit. Mr Soffer has no further comments to make at this time since the lawsuit is now pending in federal court, where he will be presenting his defence."