Jeff Bezos' messy 2019: Divorce, blackmail and an Amazon HQ2 feud

It's been a tumultuous year for Jeff Bezos.

Less than two months into the year, he was riddled by a divorce, accusations of blackmail and extortion and the collapse of a $3 billion deal to build a second Amazon headquarters in New York City.

Since early January, when the world’s richest man alive announced via Twitter that he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie Bezos, were getting divorced, shares of Amazon have rebounded by about $100, rising from $1,659.42 to $1,820.70, as of Wednesday's market close.

“If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again,” they wrote. “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family and we remain cherished friends.”

Their marriage came into the spotlight again on Thursday, when the duo confirmed in separate statements on Twitter that they had finalized their divorce. In a statement, MacKenzie Bezos confirmed that she gave her former husband all of her interests in The Washington Post and Blue Origin, in addition to 75 percent of their Amazon stock.

She also gave him voting control of her Amazon shares “to support his continued contributions with the team of these incredible companies.”

But in the months since the couple confirmed their divorce, it’s been hit after hit for Bezos.

Within hours of the divorce announcement, the National Enquirer published a string of scandalous texts that Bezos allegedly sent to Lauren Sanchez, the former TV anchor that he’s been dating. At the time, tabloids, also hinted about the possibility of lurid photos the new couple had exchanged.

Bezos commissioned Gavin de Becker -- described by The Washington Post as the mogul's “longtime private security consultant" -- to conduct an investigation to determine the source of the leak to the Enquirer.

Bezos also owns the Post, which reported earlier this week that de Becker concluded it was a “politically motivated” leak intended to embarrass the Amazon co-founder. The investigator has also only publicly accused one person of leaking the texts: Michael Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez’s brother and a pro-Trump Hollywood talent manager.

The feud between Bezos and the Enquirer escalated late Thursday night, when Bezos published a shocking blog post in which he alleged the New York-based tabloid attempted to blackmail and extort him by threatening to release nude photos, including a “below-the-belt selfie,” if he did not publicly acknowledge that the Enquirer’s coverage was not politically motivated (the National Enquirer has long been accused of acting as a proxy for Donald Trump). The Enquirer is owned by American Media Inc.

The blog -- title: “No thank you, Mr. Pecker” -- targeted David Pecker, the CEO of the media company.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption,” Bezos said. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”

In response, AMI denied the claims, saying it acted “lawfully” while reporting about the billionaire’s personal life.

“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos,” the company said in a statement released on Friday. “Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.”

It’s unclear what happens next in this scandal. In New York, blackmail and extortion are felonies and punishable by time in state prison. The emails from AMI that Bezos posted online purport to release personal images if he did not “cease and desist such defamatory conduct immediately.”

At the same time, Amazon, and Bezos, have been facing fierce attacks from local New York politicians who have said the online retailer took advantage of the city when it agreed to $3 billion worth of incentives in exchange for building its headquarters in Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens. (In return, Amazon said it will create 25,000 high-paying jobs in the area and invest at least $2.5 billion in the New York City area).

Now, the future of its planned New York expansion is canceled.

Amazon pulled out of its plan to build a second headquarters in New York City in February following a flood of opposition from city and state officials, the company confirmed in a statement.

“We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents,” the statement said.

The company had yet to lease or purchase office space for the project, so it was likely relatively easy for Amazon to withdraw from its commitment.

Scrutiny on the closed-door Amazon-New York deal increased at the beginning of the year, with the appointment of State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat and fierce HQ2 critic, to a little-known board that could have veto power of the Amazon deal.

"The deal that is before us would be horrible for New York and horrible for the country and set the precedent of giving $3 billion to the wealthiest corporation in the company to pay them to come here, especially when many of us believe they were likely to come anyway," Gianaris told FOX Business during an interview last week.


Gianaris isn’t the only New York politician skeptical of an Amazon foray in the city. The New York City Council has held two of three public meetings dedicated to questioning Amazon’s HQ2 deal, during which they wondered whether Amazon -- which in September briefly hit $1 trillion in valuation -- or Bezos -- the richest man in the world -- needed the tax incentives.

“Don’t you think there’s a better way for us to spend $3 billion?” council member Corey Johnson said.