LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Court documents filed this month in a lawsuit involving late Las Vegas entrepreneur Tony Hsieh are painting a picture of the former Zappos CEO’s state of mind as lawyers for his estate claim he planned a cashless theme park where visitors would pay in seashells.
Lawyers representing Hsieh’s estate make the allegations in their response to a lawsuit from Hsieh’s former lawyer, Puoy Premsrirut, who is seeking payment per a creditor’s claim.
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 co-administrators of his estate since the late tech visionary did not have a will. Andrew Hsieh resigned as a special administrator in July.
Lawyers for Hsieh’s estate have repeatedly written in court documents that Hsieh did not have the mental capacity to sign off on contracts in the months and years leading up to his death.
On the night of the fire, Hsieh had retreated to a shed 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.
Lawyers for his estate said Hsieh had a “growing obsession with candles and fire” at the time.
“In the months leading up to his death, Tony’s mental and physical condition rapidly deteriorated,” lawyers write in court documents. “Tony suffered from paranoid and disorganized delusional thinking and engaged in erratic behaviors that posed a danger to himself and others. As a result, Tony was unable to exercise reasonable diligence and judgment in his health and business affairs and vulnerable to exploitation.”
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.”
As the 8 News Now I-Team has reported, while Hsieh lived in Las Vegas, he had purchased 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.
In a court filing from earlier this month, lawyers for Hsieh’s estate claim “the balance on Tony’s line of credit ballooned to more than $250 million through a series of transactions,” including a $2.2 million fixed-fee for Premsrirut, a $7.5 million contract for another man to provide “financial consulting services,” a third contract worth $30 million for another man to “operate a boat bar and ice castle” and the purchase of the Zappos headquarters “for nearly $40 million more than its value.”
Through 2020, lawyers for Hsieh’s estate said, “continued [abuse of] hallucinogenic and dissociative substances, including nitrous oxide, which combined with his delusional thinking, fundamentally destroyed Tony’s ability to exercise reasonable diligence and judgment, and rendered him vulnerable to those seeking to take advantage of him,” they write in court documents.
“It was clear to anyone who spent time with Tony that he was not in any condition to plan, analyze, or negotiate any business deals,” lawyers said. In July 2020, months before Hsieh’s death, Hsieh’s “longtime general counsel departed, describing Tony’s situation as an approaching freight train she could not stop but which she did not want to enable,” lawyers wrote in court documents.
The documents provide new insight into a large project in Park City, which Hsieh was reportedly working on and funding in the months leading up to his death. Around this time, lawyers for Hsieh’s estate said Hsieh “became fixated with [a] tarot card deck” he called “Earth Warriors” and believed “he had discovered the algorithm for world peace.”
The Park City Project was to be built as a ranch where visitors would be “centered around the idea of no shoes, no tech, and no obligations,” lawyers said. According to court documents, Hsieh referred to the park as “Disneyland 2.0” and “County Zero.”
The ranch, or “cashless theme park” was to require tarot cards for entry, the filing said.
“Once inside the park, visitors would participate in activities to earn seashells that could be exchanged for food, balloon rides and spa days. After 100 hours, guests would leave the theme park, in Tony’s mind, committed to Country Zero and world peace and would continue to live on Earth Time from their personal residences,” lawyers said.
Premsrirut responded to the seashell-currency idea in a text saying, “this can not [sic] be real,” lawyers said.
The lawyers add Hsieh believed he could convince 4 billion people to live around his County Zero ideals, adding he wished to purchase hot air balloons to broadcast to people across the world and tour buses to bring people to his theme park, they write in court documents.
“Rather than push back on Tony’s manic and irrational plans and objectives, which were certain to result in Tony’s insolvency, [those named in the lawsuit] and others around Tony, validated and encouraged his ‘Park City Project’ and took turns pitching themselves to run different aspects of the Country Zero/theme park for inflated salaries,” lawyers said.
Lawyers for Hsieh also claim millions of dollars of real estate were inflated in cost and at times were based on Tarot cards, they write.
“By way of example, during one meeting, Tony recommended offering $4.4 million and $8.8 million to purchase the property of the neighboring landowners because there were 44 cards in the Earth Warriors tarot deck.”
The lawyers claim Premsrirut was aware that Hsieh was “unwell” and “that people were taking financial advantage of him, and that Tony needed professional help for his mental health and drug abuse issues.”
A month before his death, Hsieh purchased the Zappos campus for $70 million, “over $30 million more than the property’s value as of Tony’s date of death just five weeks later,” lawyers for the estate said.
Premsrirut later “consulted with a medical doctor to discuss having Tony involuntarily committed,” lawyers said.
“On October 29, 2020 (nine days after the [Zappos] transaction closed), Tony was taken to the emergency room after stating that he believed that he was “crystalizing,” that he believed he was in a simulation, that he had been chewing cigarettes, and professing, ‘I just don’t know what’s real and what’s not,’” lawyers write in court documents.
A court date was scheduled for September. No party in the case has provided prior requests for comment.