- Alternative asset firm Beneficent (Nasdaq: BENF) and CEO Brad Heppner sue reporter at The Wall Street Journal for defamation
- Reporter Alexander Gladstone wrote multiple articles in a “defamatory campaign” with alleged “malice” according to suit filed in a Texas court
- Beneficient’s law firm, Clare Locke, also sued Fox News on behalf of Dominion Voting Systems and recently reached a $787.5 million settlement
- Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is Chair of Fox News parent Fox Corp. and Executive Chairman of WSJ parent News Corp.
- Beneficient helps investors monetize illiquid assets such as private equity
- Beneficient went public earlier this year and board includes financial industry veterans including two Federal Reserve Presidents
Beneficent (Nasdaq: BENF), an alternative asset manager that went public earlier this year, has filed a suit alongside CEO Brad Heppner against a reporter at The Wall Street Journal for waging a “defamatory campaign” they argue has “disregarded” and “distorted” facts about the company and Mr. Heppner.
The company, which helps investors monetize illiquid assets such as private equity, has been the subject of multiple articles written by WSJ reporter Alexander Gladstone in the last several months along with related social media posts. The articles paint a picture of Mr. Heppner as a leader who exploited investors which, according to the lawsuit, includes falsehoods published with “actual malice.”
A spokesperson for The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp, declined to comment as did Beneficient. News Corp has extensive ties to the Murdoch family including Rupert Murdoch who is executive chairman. The suit against Mr. Gladstone was filed by Clare Locke, a firm that sued Fox News in the voting machine scandal around the 2020 election that recently resulted in a $787.5 million settlement. Mr. Murdoch is also chair of Fox News parent Fox Corp. (The two companies split apart roughly a decade ago).
Mr. Gladstone didn’t reply to a request for comment from IPO Edge.
One aim of the lawsuit is to address a “false narrative” around legacy transactions, in particular an investment in the business from another company called GWG Holdings that was characterized as “Heppner’s takeover.” The suit says that the deal with GWG was made at arms length with approval from a special committee that didn’t include Mr. Heppner.
The lawsuit says it was not Mr. Heppner’s deal as Mr. Gladstone suggests but was struck “as part of a larger strategy to diversify before Heppner became chairman of GWG’s board” at a time when Mr. Heppner “never had control or approval rights” and had no say in who was appointed to the GWG board.
Furthermore, the suit says GWG invested in Beneficient “as part of a publicly disclosed business strategy, and GWG’s investment in Beneficient, at the time of Gladstone’s Article and tweet, was worth substantially more than the principal invested.”
The suit goes on to emphasize that Beneficient attempted to share accurate information with Mr. Gladstone that he chose not to use. “When Gladstone asserted pre-publication that Beneficient ‘need[ed] to take that $230 million from GWG[,]’ he was explicitly contradicted by Plaintiffs’ representatives and warned the description was factually inaccurate—instead, the transaction described was an investment for value—and warned that the assertion that Beneficient ‘took’ money from GWG supported a false narrative,” the suit says.
Beneficient is a technology-based platform designed to help medium-to-high net worth individuals and smaller institutions exit illiquid positions in alternative assets like private equity, which typically lock up investor money for a decade or so. Ben has taken steps to streamline the process so investors can apply for a quote entirely online – much like a car insurance quote on a standardized form. The tech allows Ben to offer liquidity in transactions as small as $100,000 – far below typical transactions that occur now.
Needless to say, financial innovation can compel companies to navigate complex rules and regulations. Beneficient has two former Federal Reserve Presidents on its board: Richard Fisher of Dallas and Dennis Lockhart of Atlanta – both of whom have extensive experience in the world of money and banking.