The CEO of the company that owns the submersible that went missing in the Atlantic Ocean recently on an expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic, prompting a major search effort that has attracted worldwide attention, was sued by a Florida couple for fraud in February, according to court records.
Richard Stockton Rush, the founder and CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the company behind the highly expensive manned submersible expeditions to the Titanic, as well as one of the five people aboard the missing sub, is the sole named defendant in the suit filed in Orange County circuit court by Marc and Sharon Hagle.
According to the lawsuit, the couple paid OceanGate a total of $210,258 to be a part of the company’s first manned expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic, which was initially supposed to take place in June 2018 aboard the Cyclops 2 submersible, later renamed Titan.
The Hagles each signed initial contracts and paid a total deposit of $20,000 in November 2016, with the remaining money scheduled to be paid at a later date stipulated in the contract. In mid-2017, the Hagles began to suspect that the sub wouldn’t be ready for the June 2018 dive and considered requesting a refund on the $20,000 deposit.
According to the suit, Rush visited the Hagles at their Winter Park, Florida, home in September 2017, where he convinced the couple to remain involved in the expedition, assuring them the sub would be complete on time and that they could request a refund if the expedition was delayed.
He also informed the couple that all client deposits were in an escrow account separate from his own personal account or OceanGate’s, the Hagles allege.
The Hagles claim they were given new contracts in January 2018, which required them to immediately pay the remaining $190,258 instead of following the payment schedule in the original contracts. The couple signed the contracts and paid the remaining funds the following February, their suit says
But OceanGate, the Hagles say, canceled the June 2018 voyage two months later, citing a need for more tests. The expedition was rescheduled for July 2019.
In June 2019, the July expedition was canceled as well, with OceanGate claiming that its contracted support vessel refused to participate, the lawsuit says. The company later cited equipment failure as another reason for the cancellation. The voyage was postponed until an unspecified time in 2020.
The Hagles subsequently spoke with Rush and requested a full refund that same month, to which OceanGate’s Expedition Manager informed the couple that the company was working on a full refund plan, the suit claims The manager allegedly said details on the plan would be made clear in the coming weeks.
OceanGate subsequently announced that the expedition would take place in July 2020. Then, in October 2019, OceanGate announced the cancellation of the 2020 expedition.
OceanGate eventually responded to the Hagles request for a refund by allegedly demanding the couple participate in an expedition scheduled for July 2021, stating they would not be entitled to a refund if they did not participate.
The lawsuit alleges Rush misled the Hagles during the September 2017 meeting to prevent them from withdrawing from the expedition and persuade them to sign the second set of contracts, in order to accelerate the couple’s payment of the remaining balance of the expedition’s cost.
The lawsuit also alleges Rush violated Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Practices Act.
The Titan submersible carrying Rush, who was reportedly piloting the craft, and four passengers went missing Sunday morning. Authorities estimate they have enough oxygen to last them until Thursday morning.
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