Drug Importing Billionaire A “Functioning Pothead”
The name of the billionaire released without conviction for importing drugs into New Zealand at the beginning of the year is Peter B Lewis a 66-year-old American insurance mogul.
Earlier this year Judge Peter Harvey ruled in the Otahuhu District court continuing the name suppression of the man. Yesterday in a 34 page judgment the Court of Appeal ruled that Judge Harvey had erred in law. The suppression order itself was extended till 2.15pm today.
The name suppression was given by Judge Harvey after Mr Lewis was arrested on January 5 for possession of 103 grams of cannabis and hashish resin which he brought into Auckland airport. Judge Harvey later discharged the man without conviction after he made a donation to a drug rehabilitation trust.
Lewis, 66, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Progressive Corp, America’s fourth largest personal automobile insurance company.
The company is reported to have revenues of US$5.29 billion (NZ$) and profits of $456.7 million (NZ$) and employs over 12,000 people.
Lewis’s personal wealth estimated at over $NZ 6 Billion (US$3 billion)
Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper has also reported that Lewis was a champion of marijuana law reform in the United States as one of three financial backers to a US$5million television advertising campaign in 1998 which pushed for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use.
The Plain Dealer also reported that Lewis is also is known for his philanthropy contributing $50 million to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and $55 million to Princeton University, for research on the mapping of the human genome.
In an article in Fortune Magazine on the billionaire a close business associate described Lewis as a “functioning pot-head”.
Lewis is believed to have paid around NZ$50,000 in a voluntary donation to NZ drug rehabilitation centre - a condition of his release without conviction.
Attached: A transcript of what NZers were not allowed to read earlier. A report from Peter Lewis’s home town newspaper published shortly after he appeared in court for the first time in New Zealand.
Saturday, January 08, 2000
By KEVIN HARTER
PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
Peter B. Lewis, the chairman and chief executive officer of Progressive Corp. in Mayfield, was arrested Wednesday at the Auckland, New Zealand, airport and later charged with possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana and marijuana resin.
Lewis, 66, a proponent of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, appeared Friday (Thursday in the United States) in the Otahuhu District Court, according to a source in Auckland. The source said Lewis made an unspecified contribution to an Auckland drug rehabilitation center, and the charges against him were "discharged without conviction.”
Judge David Harvey then suppressed Lewis' name, which is allowed under provisions of New Zealand law. Marie Dyhrberg, an Auckland attorney who represents Lewis, declined to comment.
"It would not be in the interest of my client," she said.
Asked about Lewis' drug arrest, Progressive spokeswoman Leslie Kolleda said yesterday, "We have reached Peter on vacation and he has no comment on the situation." She declined to say where Lewis was vacationing.
Kolleda refused a reporter's request to interview Lewis but offered to set up an interview when the CEO returns to Cleveland later his month.
New Zealand's strict privacy laws kept much of Lewis' case confidential.
Robyn Orchard, of the Auckland Police Department, said that because the case had been discharged and the name suppressed by the judge, she could not release any information except that a 66-year-old U.S. citizen had been arrested and appeared in court but was released after making a contribution to Odyssey House, the rehabilitation center.
A story published yesterday in the Auckland-based New Zealand Herald, headlined, "Drug-stash billionaire walks free," asks if a foreign citizen was given preferential treatment by the court but does not name Lewis. The paper described the citizen as a "a billionaire businessman visiting Auckland for the America's Cup regatta.”
According to the Herald, the businessman admitted to police in a videotaped interview that he brought drugs into the country for his own use.
The drugs - about 2 ounces of hashish and a little more than 11/2 ounces of cannabis plant - were found in his briefcase, along with two pipes, the Herald said, citing a police prosecution summary.
The newspaper also reported it was going to court for access to information about his arrest and the right to name him.
The Herald also reported that Dyhrberg approached its reporter in court and warned against publishing her client's name.
"Don't try anything cute because we'll sue the arse off you and he has the money to do it," the Herald quoted Dyhrberg as telling its reporter.
Asked whether such an arrest was an event that public companies must disclose, Kolleda said, "I honestly don't know." She wouldn't comment on whether attorneys for Progressive are looking into the issue.
Cleveland securities lawyer David S. Inglis wouldn't comment on the Lewis case because he was unaware of it. Generally, he said, what public companies must disclose depends on the seriousness of the allegation and the extent to which it would reflect on the executive's integrity or ability to perform his job. "It's not a black and white issue," Inglis said.
In 1998, Lewis was one of three financial backers of an estimated $5 million advertising campaign urging voters in five states to legalize the medical use of marijuana. The initiatives passed in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.
Progressive, the nation's fourth-largest personal auto insurer, reported revenues of $5.29 billion in 1998 and profits of $456.7 million. The company has more than 12,000 employees.
Lewis owned about 9 million shares of Progressive's stock at the beginning of last year, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. His stake would be worth $640.2 million at Progressive's closing share price of $70.69 yesterday.
A colorful, energetic executive, Lewis also is known for his philanthropy. He contributed $50 million to the Solomon R.
Guggenheim Museum in New York, and his alma mater, Princeton University, announced in June that Lewis had given the school its second-largest grant ever - $55 million - for a center housing biology's biggest project, the mapping of the human genome.
Two years ago, he gave $28.8 million toward the construction of a new Weatherhead School of Management Building at Case Western Reserve University.
When completed next year, the 149,000-square-foot facility, designed by famed architect Frank O. Gehry and estimated to cost $48.3 million, will house classrooms and faculty offices and serve as the center of Weatherhead's new Peter B. Lewis campus.
Plain Dealer reporters James Ewinger, Zina Vishnevsky and Bill Lubinger contributed to this article.
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©2000 THE PLAIN DEALER.