LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The fight over former Zappos CEO and late Las Vegas entrepreneur Tony Hsieh’s massive fortune is focusing on a missing cellphone, deleted emails and text messages, the 8 News Now I-Team discovered in court documents.
Hsieh died in a house fire in November 2020 in Connecticut. He was 46. In December 2020, a judge named his father, Richard Hsieh, and brother, Andrew Hsieh, as special administrators of his estate since the entrepreneur did not have a will.
While Hsieh lived in Las Vegas, he had bought up several properties and was living most of the last year of his life in Park City, Utah. Previous court filings have estimated his wealth at nearly $850 million.
Court documents filed by Hsieh’s family last year indicated Hsieh used ketamine and nitrous oxide in the years before his death. According to friends, Hsieh used “as many as 50 cartridges of nitrous oxide a day, often in public, or during ‘meetings’ with people,” documents said. Court documents also said Hsieh’s bedroom was “littered with hundreds of spent nitrous oxide cartridges.”
On the night of the fire, Hsieh had retreated to a shed at the Connecticut home after a fight with his girlfriend and was using a propane heater to stay warm before the fire that killed him, investigators said. Hsieh was in a storage room with a 20-pound propane tank at the time.
In court documents filed in recent weeks, lawyers for Hsieh’s estate said Hsieh’s lawyer, Puoy Premsrirut, lost her cellphone amid the probate process. Court documents indicate Premsrirut lost the phone in July 2021 and was unable to fully comply with a subpoena.
“Ms. Premsrirut joins an ever-growing group of material witnesses who were present in Park City in 2020, witnessed Tony’s precipitous mental and physical decline, and who conveniently lost or deleted relevant documents or communications once under subpoena,” a motion filed in late May said. “While Ms. Premsrirut’s 11th-hour revelation is troubling in and of itself, her failure to address any of the questions raised by this shocking admission is even more disconcerting.”
The filing said Premsrirut, who Hsieh hired in July 2020, “waited for seven months to contact her phone carrier to retrieve the lost messages.”
“Apparently, the technology for Tony’s inner circle, of which Ms. Premsrirut was a key member as his attorney, was remarkably unreliable and/or prone to a host of issues that resulted in deleted chats and messages,” court documents said.
Lawyers for Premsrirut have responded to the estate’s lawyers, saying she has made every effort to provide the documents and messages. Premsrirut has also turned over tens of thousands of documents and emails, filings said.
“It’s very common,” lawyer Shane Jasmine Young, of the Young Law Group, told the I-Team on Tuesday about the hunt for records such as text messages. “In general, the estate is claiming that there were millions of dollars being spent of Tony Hsieh’s money in those few months and that certain things were not done properly.”
There is no evidence in any court document of any wrongdoing other than the estate’s general allegations made in court documents.
In addition to Premsrirut’s phone, the estate names two other cases where data or devices have been lost.
A real estate agent the estate said was “involved in multiple suspect real estate transactions that cost Tony tens of millions of dollars,” deleted her inbox thinking it was her junk folder, documents said. The emails are unable to be recovered, the filing said.
In a second case, a personal assistant bought a new phone after Hsieh’s death “and did not back up her text messages as she was not placed on notice to preserve any data,” documents said.
“Indeed, it is remarkable that several persons with knowledge of Tony’s precipitous mental and physical decline in 2020, who witnessed or participated in activities that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of Tony’s money to be spent in a few short months, now conveniently claim that they lost a critical device or else ‘accidentally’ wiped relevant text messages or emails within a year of his death,” lawyers for Hsieh’s estate write in court documents.
Attorneys for Premsrirut called the claims “smoke and mirrors… to create the illusion of a dispute and claims that do not exist.”
The contents of the text messages could help the estate figure out Hsieh’s state of mind in his final months, Young said. Lawyers said Premsrirut was unable to retrieve the data from her carrier or Apple.
“What was the influence or what were those other types of advice that might have led Tony to make some of these decisions in terms of the money he was spending,” Young said.
Premsrirut previously filed a lawsuit against the estate to be paid for her legal services under her original contract and for her work “in sorting out various personal and business matters in which Tony Hsieh was involved,” court documents said.
A judge heard arguments on the matter last week. Lawyers for Hsieh’s estate and Premsrirut did not provide comment for this report.