The health status of Canadian show jumping legend Eric Lamaze, who publicly announced in 2019 that he has been fighting brain cancer since 2017, has been called into question after the most recent developments in one of many lawsuits the Olympic gold medalist and former chef d’equipe is facing.
As reported Wednesday by Horse Sport, a judge in Ontario, Canada, has found that Lamaze submitted fraudulent reports related to his cancer treatment in an effort to postpone a trial in a horse-sales lawsuit that has been going on for 13 years. The trial will go forward, the judge ruled, as the evidence of his cancer treatment that he was using to adjourn the trial did not appear “to be either credible or reliable.”
The plaintiffs, the owners of Iron Horse Farm Inc., first sued Lamaze in 2010 over three horses they claim he misrepresented in selling to them. This summer, they hired a private investigator to look into the veracity of several letters, allegedly signed by physicians at the Chirec Cancer Institute in Brussels, that Lamaze’s attorney submitted relating to his cancer treatment. The investigator spoke with the physicians whose signatures were on the documents and other hospital staff and determined the documents were falsified.
When contacted about one of the documents, which was written in Dutch and allegedly signed by him, a physician at Chirec told the investigator that the signature was not his and that he does not speak Dutch.
The other letter, purportedly signed by a different Chirec neurosurgeon, described Lamaze as a patient under his care since 2017 and claimed Lamaze underwent surgery in July to remove “laryngeal throat cancer that has attached itself to the larynx,” and that he was scheduled for a high-risk craniotomy surgery on Aug. 11. When questioned about the letter, that doctor told the hospital group’s legal counsel, in French, “It’s a fake. I never wrote this letter, and moreover I have no memory of this patient.”
Lamaze’s longtime friend and lawyer Timothy Danson, whose firm earlier had furnished the Ontario court with a chronology of Lamaze’s brain cancer battle that Danson had written, removed himself from the case after the forgeries were discovered. In his final appearance on Sept. 5, Danson told the court, “Eric is very sick, but maybe not with cancer,” Horse Sport reported.
Lamaze’s alleged cancer status has played a role in many of the lawsuits he currently faces in the U.S.—frequently as a reason to delay or not participate in court proceedings.
Surgery Referenced In Fake Letter Used In U.S. Case
The Aug. 11 surgery referenced in one of the fraudulent letters also appears in recent court filings surrounding another horse-sale lawsuit Lamaze faces in the U.S., filed by the former co-owners of Nikka VD Bisschop, a horse who represented Canada at last year’s world championship. Lorna Guthrie and Jeffrey Brandmaier accuse Lamaze of fraud, breach of contract, and breaking Florida law. They claim he owes them more than $1.4 million related to the misrepresented purchase of “Nikka” and another horse, and the subsequent sale of Nikka to his clients Mark and Tara Rein.
That suit, which now involves the Reins as well as Lamaze, Brandmaier and Guthrie, is working its way through the court system. In a late July filing, Lamaze’s former attorney George Coe—who since has withdrawn his services, citing “irreconcilable differences”—argued that Lamaze was unable to participate in a July 14 hearing because he had just undergone a “laryngectomy,” and that he would not be able to participate in any court proceedings for the foreseeable future after a planned Aug. 11 operation. He did not state the nature of that procedure, but it matches the date for the craniotomy described in one of the fraudulent letters from the Belgian hospital.
“There is no current schedule or timetable by which Mr. Lamaze is currently expected to be able to speak after the surgery on Aug. 11, 2023, and it is unknown how long a rehabilitation process Lamaze will need before he can testify in any manner,” Coe wrote.
That case is set for mediation next week.
Too Sick To Show Up?
Another aspect of the Ontario case with echoes in Lamaze’s U.S. legal issues is the lengthy “Chronology of Eric Lamaze’s Battle With Brain Cancer” that his former attorney Danson prepared last year, in April 2022, to support the show jumper in a Florida-based lawsuit filed by Marie Fraisse, the longtime former manager of his Torrey Pines Stables.
The Canadian attorney did not represent Lamaze in the suit, in which Fraisse successfully sued Lamaze for slander and filing a fraudulent lien against a Florida home he’d helped her purchase, two years after she’d paid back the money. However, in writing an affidavit in support of the show jumper, Danson identified himself as a close personal friend who “had stepped into that role of ‘family’ for Eric.” He put together the chronology of Lamaze’s medical issues when the veracity of Lamaze’s treatment claims were called into question by Fraisse’s lawyer.
When Lamaze missed a court-ordered deposition on April 15, 2022, 15th Judicial Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes ordered him to appear in person in Florida the next month for a “show cause” hearing to explain his absence.
In a heavily redacted document addressing Lamaze’s health, his attorneys argued there were extenuating circumstances for missing the April 15 hearing—including that they were unable to reach him that week to tell him the date was set, and that his “failure to appear was not intentional given his cognitive impairment.”
In the same document, his attorneys asked that the hearing, set for May 20, 2022, be held via Zoom rather than in person, as Lamaze had already returned “where his team of treating physicians are located” and that flying back to the U.S. would pose a health risk. They included Danson’s affidavit outlining the chronology of Lamaze’s brain cancer fight to bolster their case.
So much of Danson’s statement was redacted that the nature and context of it was unclear, but it ended with an impassioned plea about the importance of the Canadian show jumping team chef d’equipe job to Lamaze. He was appointed to the position in February 2022 and stepped down in January, after one year.
“The only thing that saved Eric was the Chef d’Equipe job,” wrote Danson. “It revived his life. It gave him hope. … Taking the Chef d’Equipe job away from Eric would be a death sentence.”
The judge rejected the argument, so Lamaze’s attorneys refiled it, this time including a short note from a doctor identified as his treating physician in Belgium. The note, signed by a general practitioner in Soignes, a town near Torrey Pines’ base in Belgium, is also redacted. It says in part that:
“Mister Eric Lamaze is medically unable to take the flight from Belgium to the USA this next days, because of stress and other medical circumstances. [Redacted sentence.] At this point, I cannot clear Mr Lamaze for travel. The stress of international flight purposes immediate health risk for Mr Lamaze.”
Responding to his attorneys’ claim that Lamaze did not attend the April 15 deposition due to cognitive impairment, Fraisse’s attorneys provided a copy of an April 16 social media post by Lamaze indicating he was at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Miami Beach CSI5*, held April 14-16, coaching Nina Mallevaey aboard his former five-star mount, Chacco Kid.
And in response to claims that Lamaze’s health was too frail to risk an international flight to the U.S. to appear May 20, Fraisse’s attorney submitted copies of various equestrian websites’ coverage of the La Baule CSI5*, held May 8, 2022, in France, with photographs showing Lamaze celebrating Beth Underhill’s win on Dieu Merci Van T & L, then co-owned by Torrey Pines and Rein Family LLC.
Judge Kasternakes denied the motion again, adding a terse admonition to Lamaze and his attorneys:
“All counsel shall appear in court as directed. At that time, the Court will discuss with counsel Mr. Lamaze’s contumacious and willful violation of this Court’s Order to appear for deposition on a specified date, wherein Mr. Lamaze saw fit to, and was medically and cognitively capable of, attending a horse-related function in another community in South Florida.
He continued, “[C]ounsel is further directed not to file any further pleadings concerning Mr. Lamaze and his ability or inability to come to South Florida for this case.”
The situation was similar to one Lamaze faced in the ongoing Iron Horse Farm case, where he claimed ill health around the time of a scheduled court appearance and later was found to have been competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) during that period.
Lamaze’s health status was questioned again after he cut short a video deposition in Fraisse’s case several weeks later:
“During the deposition [Lamaze] refused to answer question [sic] about his health, citing confidentiality. However, it was [him] who many times used his health as a shield in front of the court” to avoid appearing in previous hearings, Fraisse’s attorney wrote.
“In addition, three hours into the deposition [Lamaze] refused to continue as he was not feeling well. However, that did not stop [him] from continuing competing and working as the chef du equipe [sic] and manager of the Canadian show jumping team and working a full day the Saturday and Sunday after the [Friday] deposition took place.”
In October 2022, the firm representing Lamaze filed a motion to withdraw, citing irreconcilable differences. Shortly thereafter, they sued him for $180,000 in unpaid legal fees, though that case was closed after the firm failed to locate him and serve notice in a timely manner.
In November 2022 Kasternakes filed a final judgment in favor of Fraisse, noting that Lamaze “willfully and contumaciously” failed to comply with court orders to produce bank statements, pay sanctions to Fraisse, retain new counsel or appear at hearings. He also ordered Lamaze to pay Fraisse’s costs and attorney fees, which he has not yet done.
Olympian Faces Multiple Other Lawsuits
Lamaze is facing multiple lawsuits filed by former business associates in Florida, including two involving multimillion-dollar investments that were filed in the weeks after he announced Jan. 10 that he would not return as chef d’equipe of the Canadian show jumping team.
The suits include the Nikka suit, filed Jan. 17, and two other suits filed by Robert Chad, the father of Lamaze’s longtime former students Bretton and Kara Chad.
The Chads filed a lawsuit Jan. 30 involving Torrey Pines South, Lamaze’s former Wellington, Florida, stables. Robert Chad purchased the facility with Lamaze and another investor for $8.25 million in 2015, and he alleges he bought Lamaze out of his share in October 2020. However, after receiving payment, Lamaze has refused to turn over bookkeeping records, documents related to the funding and purchase of the property, account for roughly $1 million missing, and sign other paperwork necessary to finalize their business transaction, that lawsuit alleges. The suit asks the court to force Lamaze to do so.
Both Nikka and Torrey Pines South were purchased in 2021 by limited liability companies owned by Lamaze’s clients Mark and Tara Rein—Nikka for almost $2.8 million, according to the suit filed by Guthrie and Brandmaier, and the 4-acre Wellington farm for $8.97 million according to Palm Beach County property records.
A second suit, filed April 3 by the Chad family through their Stone Ridge Farms, LLC, accuses Lamaze of misrepresenting a horse he sourced for the family and, in violation of Florida law, failing to disclose he was working as an agent for the seller as well to pocket a hidden and hefty commission “amounting to as much as half” of the 625,000 euros the Chads paid. The horse’s performance was “dismal at best,” according to the suit, and it was sold four years later for 8,000 British pounds.
Lamaze also was sued last year by the managers of a $30,000 per month luxury apartment in Miami. Their suit said he owes almost $80,000 in unpaid rent, damages and early lease termination fees. Another private landlord in Miami sued him this year for $12,500 in unpaid rent on a one-year lease he signed in January and allegedly broke in April—a judge found in the landlord’s favor and Lamaze was evicted. A bank that loaned Lamaze $1.8 million in 2017 to purchase a 70-foot yacht, M/Y Water Jump II, successfully foreclosed upon the yacht and repossessed it March 23, saying that Lamaze, Torrey Pines Stables and another of his businesses, Water Jump Ltd., owed more than $1.42 million after they stopped making timely payments in 2020 and stopped making payments altogether in September 2022.
In the Miami luxury apartment case, the property managers allege that Lamaze signed a one-year lease in November 2020 but stopped paying rent in March 2021. He informed the property manager he would be terminating early, on May 1, due to “an unforeseen medical emergency,” and asked for understanding “considering the circumstances of my departure are out of my control.”
Although Lamaze did not share the nature of the medical emergency in his lease-termination letter, FEI records indicate that he was able to compete Nikka, Chacco Kid and Fine Lady 5 at the St. Tropez-Grimaud CSI5* (France) May 5-6, 2021, as well as the Madrid CSI5* and Piazza di Siena CSIO5* (Italy) later that month. He withdrew from Tokyo Olympic consideration in July, citing health concerns, but continued to compete heavily until September, at which point he stopped competing, again citing health issues.
In February, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the property management company and ordered Lamaze to pay nearly $120,000. Court records indicate he has not yet filed necessary paperwork related to the case and could face further sanctions.
In many of the cases filed against Lamaze, the plaintiffs have been unable to locate him to serve legal notice of the suits.
The Chronicle could not reach Lamaze to seek comment, and a representative of his former public relations firm said Friday they are no longer representing him.