When Will There Be Justice for George?

George Smith Cruise Ship DisappearanceIt has been eight years since George Smith disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in the early morning hours of July 4, 2005.

The cruise line initially stated that it had no idea what happened. But in 2012 it was revealed that Royal Caribbean took possession of a video shortly after the incident which implicated several men who were last seen with Mr. Smith. The video shows one of the men saying "we gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."

The FBI took possession of the video back in 2005 and did not reveal the contents to any of the families.

Seeking justice on the high seas when crimes occur is often a difficult task. The FBI has a poor record prosecuting crimes on cruise ships. It often seems that the FBI is more concerned with not embarrassing the cruise lines than obtaining justice for victims of crimes and their families.

The George Smith case is a good example of justice denied. But the case is still "open" and has been transferred from the FBI's office in Connecticut to the FBI office in New York. Say your prayers that there's an arrest and prosecution.

You can read a series of articles about Mr. Smith's disappearance here.

 

Photo Credit: CBS

48 Hours Update: "New" Evidence in Disappearance of Cruise Passenger George Smith

Cruise Passenger George SmithSaturday night, CBS's "'48 Hours" will air what is being described as "important new evidence" in the mysterious disappearance of George Smith during his honeymoon cruise. The episode is called "48 Hours: Murder at Sea?"

You may recall that George Smith from the Greenwich Connecticut area was enjoying his honeymoon with his newly-wed bride Jennifer Hagel when he disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005, leaving a blood-stained awning behind him. 

The cruise line quickly concluded that Mr. Smith was intoxicated and must have been sitting on a balcony railing and fell overboard, and it reported this self-serving opinion as its official report to the flag state. Royal Caribbean ignored the fact that four young men were last seen in the Smith's cabin and that there were sounds of an argument and loud noises consistent with a struggle, followed by a resounding "thud" on the awning below.  

Gregory Rozenbeg - Cruise Disappearance of George SmithWe represented George's wife, Jennifer, who instructed us to retain noted forensic scientist Henry Lee in the face of the cruise line's lack of cooperation.

Last year, CBS reported that the FBI had possession of a videotape taken by the four men where they talk callously of George's death. The video captures one of the men saying "we gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute." Cruise passenger Greg Rosenberg reportedly flashes gang signs and says "Told ya I was gangsta." 

We have written prior articles about Gregory Rozenberg such as "Disappearance of George Smith Update: Do You Have Information About Gregory Rozenberg?"   Rozenberg's mugshots are readily available online, including the one to the right taken last fall.

Royal Caribbean concealed this tape from us throughout our representation of Jennifer Hagel. The tape's existence was revealed by the FBI last year to the lawyer for the Smith family. 

Its disgraceful that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have not proceeded with a criminal case. Its been going on eight years since George's disappearance. A prosecution is long overdue.

Read our other articles about the case:

Disappearance of George Smith - Trouble as the Cruise Ship Sails to Kusadasi

A Frantic Call Back to Connecticut

Media Frenzy Follows Case of "Missing Honeymooner"

Dr. Henry Lee Boards the Brilliance of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Blocks Dr. Henry Lee's Dummy Experiment

The International Cruise Victims Organization Is Born!

Royal Caribbean Captain Says Its Just an Accident Involving a Bloody Nose

Larry King Live & the "Missing Groom Mystery" 

 

Tonight: Update On Missing Cruise Passenger George Smith

As I mentioned earlier this week, tonight the Nancy Grace program takes a look back at the mystery of the George Smith case. 

Mr. Smith "disappeared" from the Brilliance of the Seas during his honeymoon cruise with his newlywed wife, Jennifer Hagel, in July 2005.

There has been some mystery and intrigue over the years. But there have been developments this year which point the finger squarely at some of the men last seen with Mr. Smith as being involved in his disappearance.      

Seven years ago, Nancy Grace interviewed me on her show about the case (we represented George's widow, Jennifer)George Smith Disappearance - Cruise Ship. Ms. Grace spent more time attacking Jennifer, than focusing on those responsible for George's death and the cruise line which tried to cover it up.

The photo to the right is of George and Jennifer at the beginning of their honeymoon cruise. (We distributed the photo at the Congressional hearing into Mr. Smith's death in 2005).

This was a couple deeply in love, with a life together ahead of them. 

Let's hope that tonight's program is really an update on who was involved in George's death over seven years ago, and not a platform to attack his wife, Jennifer.

This is a case where there needs to be an arrest of those who were involved in George's death and those who covered it up.

Unsolved Cruise Disappearance: What Happened to George Smith?

George Smith - Cruise Ship - Missing HoneymoonerOver seven years ago, newlywed cruise passenger George Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas into the Aegean Sea. The cruise line quickly concluded that Mr. Smith probably sat on the railing of his balcony and fell overboard, but there is absolutely no proof of that.

What Royal Caribbean knew but did not reveal to the families of George Smith and his bride, Jennifer Hagel, was that it had seized a video camera from other men last seen with Mr. Smith. The day after Mr. Smith's disappearance, these passengers were eating breakfast in the cruise ship's dining room when they began filming each other. According to a CBS program this year, the men were recorded laughing about the situation and mocking Mr. Smith.

The camera then stops on one of the three men who said: "We gave that guy a paragliding lesson without a parachute."

Our firm represented Mr. Smith's widow and we hired forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee back in 2005 to investigate the case. The cruise line never revealed this video to us, or to Dr. Lee, or to the public. Instead, it launched a scandalous media campaign to portray Mr. Smith as a drunk and his bride as unfaithful. 

This Friday, the Nancy Grace program is airing a special look back at this case entitled "What Nancy Grace Mystery - Disappearance of George Smith Happened to George Smith?" The program will take a look back on some of the developments in the case. This "mystery" is no mystery at all. Those involved should be prosecuted. 

We have written a series of articles about Mr. Smith's case, including Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later. We discussed what happened on the cruise and how the cruise line and the media responded to Mr. Smith's disappearance.  

I am not a fan of Nancy Grace. Her program lost focus on the cruise line's cover-up and the incompetency of the FBI in investigating the crime, while unnecessarily pitting the Smith family against their daughter-in-law. But her program is one of the few that continues to cover Mr. Smith's disappearance. I'll be watching this Friday.

Update on Disappearance of George Smith From Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Ship

George Smith Disappearance Update This evening Dateline NBC will air what it is calling an "update" on the story of missing cruise passenger George Smith who disappeared under suspicious circumstances during his honeymoon cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in the summer of 2005.

I am glad to see that Mr. Smith's case  is receiving additional attention.  

I have always thought that foul play was involved in Mr. Smith's disappearance.  Hopefully the renewed media attention will motivate someone to come forward with information which may help solve the case.    

That being said, I am skeptical whether anything "new" will be revealed by the Dateline program tonight.  

Dateline advertises that its program will tell " . . . the story of an active, ongoing investigation whereby FBI agents won't talk on the record.  However, the cruise line Royal Caribbean has conducted its own internal investigation and Dateline has the exclusive update about what George Smith Murder Updatehappened aboard the ship in the early hours of July 5, 2005."

Let's keep a few things in perspective.  Mr. Smith's disappearance, or murder as many people including me believe, occurred on July 5, 2005 - six and one-half years ago. 

In 2005, Royal Caribbean provided us with copies of photographs of the cabin and awning, statements, security reports and other information about Mr. Smith's disappearance.  The case was discussed regularly on all of the nightly cable news shows and major networks which broadcast a great deal of information about what happened on the night in question. 

Royal Caribbean's investigation into what happened ended in 2005.  The cruise line defense lawyers who were sent to the cruise ship have subsequently switched to representing passengers and crewmembers.  Believe it or not, they are now employed by a firm which sues Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines.  There has been no "internal investigation" by Royal Caribbean into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Smith's death for over 6 years. 

Now, lets consider the so called "open and active" FBI investigation.  Six and one-half years George Smith Death Update - Dr. Henry Leeago, the FBI was investigating the case, although I would consider it rather amateurish.  The FBI had not even interviewed the passengers on either side of the Smith's cabin a month after the cruise.  These individuals were first interviewed by Joe Scarborough on cable news.  The investigation did not get serious until we boarded the cruise ship with forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee and a team of investigators.  It was only after we retained Dr. Lee did the FBI test the carpet in the cabin for blood stains.

Our firm was in constant contact with the FBI (we represented George Smith's widow Jennifer Hagel) in 2005 and 2006.  It was clear to us that the FBI investigation lost steam in early 2006.  A  Grand Jury was convened and called witnesses but returned no indictments against anyone.  There has been no real investigation by the FBI for well over five years as best as we can tell. 

What the Dateline television show will discuss are certain documents, photographs and video which the cruise line has been offering to the families since June of 2006.  At that time, we reached a settlement with Royal Caribbean where the cruise line would pay $1,060,000 in compensation, as well as turn over all of the cruise line's documents, photographs, CCTV images, statements and other information in order for the families to try and learn what happened to Mr. Smith.  Much of the George Smith Murder - Cruise Ship  information was confidential and privileged which  the cruise line had no legal obligation to disclose.

The Smith family objected to the terms of the settlement.  A probate court in Greenwich upheld the settlement, finding that it was fair and in the best interests of all concerned.  But the Smith family appealed the Greenwich probate court's ruling and this delayed the cruise line's release of information.  Several years later, Royal Caribbean increased its settlement offer by $250,000 for a total of $1,310,000 and again agreed to provide exactly the same documents, photographs and information it offered back in 2006.

In 2010, Royal Caribbean turned all of its internal information over to the families.  There was nothing new in these documents most of which we obtained in 2005.  The attorney for the Smith family provided copies of these documents to the producers of Dateline which tonight will disclose the "new" information.      

Jennifer Hagel - Disappearance of George Smith In truth, Dateline is now airing the same old photographs, cruise line documents and statements which we obtained in 2005 and which the cruise line has been offering to all of the families since 2006.

The Smith family apparently has a new theory into their son's death, namely that he was killed in an attempted robbery.  The New York Post contains a quote, this morning, from the Smith family's lawyer that “The family believes it was a robbery-gone-bad." 

The New York Post's article contains the provocative title: "Feds' Mafia Team Join Probe into Disappearance of Conn. Newlywed."  The alleged "mafia" connection to some of the men last seen with Mr. Smith and who were in his cabin around 4:00 AM on the morning of his disappearance is nothing new.

The Post also published a couple of CTTV images of Mr. Smith and his wife Jennifer Hagel which Royal Caribbean released several years ago.  

Last summer, we published a series of articles on the sixth year anniversary of Mr. Smith's death:George Smith Disappearance Update

Trouble as the Cruise Ship Sails to Kusadasi

A Frantic Call Back to Connecticut

Media Frenzy Follows Case of "Missing Honeymooner" 

Dr. Henry Lee Boards the Brilliance of the Seas 

Royal Caribbean Blocks Dr. Henry Lee's Dummy Experiment 

The International Cruise Victims Organization Is Born! 

Royal Caribbean Captain Says Its Just an Accident Involving a Bloody Nose 

Larry King Live & the "Missing Groom Mystery"

Do you have information which may solve this case?   Please let us hear from you.

  

 

Photo credit:  Bottom 2 photographs (CCTV images) Royal Caribbean / New York Post

Disappearance of George Smith - Six Years Later - Trouble as the Cruise Ship Sails to Kusadasi

George Smith and Jennifer Hagel married in late June 2005 in Newport Rhode Island.  Their honeymoon was a cruise in the Mediterranean Sea aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas, which departed from Barcelona to ports in Italy, Greece and Kusadasi Turkey.

George Smith - Jennifer Hagel - Cruise DisappearanceLittle did George and Jennifer know that these would be their final days together.

In the early morning hours of July 5, 2005, at around 4:30 AM, George Smith would go over the rail of the couple's balcony, land on the metal awning over the lifeboats two floors below, and then fall into the waters in the Aegean Sea.  At the same time, his wife Jennifer Hagel was unconscious on the other side of the cruise ship in an alcove next to a stairwell adjacent to a passenger hallway some 400 feet away.    

The passengers on both sides of the Smith's cabin had previously complained to security about noise coming from the Smith's cabin.  On the fore side of the cabin, passenger Clete Hyman called the ship's security and complained about loud noises and partying.  He would later tell television reporters that he heard sounds of an argument out on the balcony.  On the aft side of the cabin, passengers Mr. and Mrs. Lawyer complained to security personnel that they should enter the Smith's cabin because they heard loud noises like furniture moving around, consistent with a struggle.

But no cruise line employees entered the cabin or called to determine what was happening. 

Cleaning personnel would later find Jennifer Hagel unconscious lying in the alcove.  Security personnel would then take her by wheelchair - not to the ship infirmary - but back to the cabin where the sounds of an argument and perhaps violence were heard.  The cruise line would make no effort to look for Mr. Smith, who was either lying on the metal awning over the lifeboats or fighting for his life in the water as the cruise ship sailed away.  Instead, the cruise line security personnel would put Ms. Hagel in bed, turn out the lights, and close the door.

Awning Over Life Boats - Brilliance of the SeasLater in the morning, after the Brilliance of the Seas had reached port in Turkey, 16 year old cruise passenger Emilie Rausch took a photograph of a large blood stain on the awning. 

Ms. Rausch would later tell CBS News, "when I took the picture, one of the things that made me think that this could have been blood - I saw a hand print running off the side of it."  

Young Ms. Rausch's eerie recollection was 100% accurate. 

Six months later when Ms. Hagel hired our firm and we retained Dr. Henry Lee to inspect the cruise ship for evidence, he would find a bloody hand print in the gutter of the awning over the lifeboats which George Smith had apparently grabbed before he went overboard.

 

This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV - Six Years Later.

Do you have information which may solve this case?   Please let us hear from you.  

Photo credits:

Top:  Oprah Show

Bottom:  Emilie Rausch

Five Year Anniversary of Time Magazine's "Crime Rocks the Boats"

We are approaching the five year anniversary of the March 2006 Congressional hearings into the issue of crimes on cruise ships.  Due to the efforts of the newly formed International Cruise Victims (ICV) organization, Congress convened a hearing in March 2006 to investigate the disappearances of cruise passengers and the sexual assault of women during cruises.

Merrian Carver - Missing - Celebrity CruisesThe cruise industry was caught flat footed.  The ICV organization, led by President Ken Carver (below, right), introduced the compelling stories of victims of shipboard crimes and mistreatment by the cruise lines.

Mr. Carver's daughter Merrian Carver (photo left), disappeared from the Celebrity cruise ship Mercury.  Her stateroom attendant knew she was missing and was instructed to do nothing.  Celebrity Cruises thereafter engaged in nothing less than a cover up, including members of senior management.  

George Smith IV (photo below left) disappeared from the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas.  The cruise line quickly characterized the incident as an accident and destroyed evidence. 

A bartender sexually assaulted Janet Kelly during a cruise from Southern California to Mexico (a confidentiality order prohibits the mention of the cruise lines or cruise ship).  The cruise line did nothing to assist in proving a case against its own crew member, but eventually fired him.  He ended up serving drinks on a Princess cruise ship shortly thereafter until we tracked him down and had him fired again.    

The stories of these victims  were compelling.  The cruise industry had little response.

We represented Mr. Smith's widow Jennifer Hagel and introduced her to another client of the firm, Janet Kelly.  They appeared on national television together (photo below, middle right) and were featured in an article by Time magazine called "Crime Rocks the Boats."  This hearing and the attendant press surrounding the hearing in Washington were an important step toward convincing our U.S. Congress to enact legislation to protect the cruising public.  Last year President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Ken Carver - International Cruise Victims - Cruise Ship Crime Safety and Security Act into law.  The public can thank Ken Carver, Janet Kelly and Jennifer Hagel - among many others - for their dedication and advocacy for creating public awareness of the need for legislation to oversee the foreign flagged cruise industry.   

Here is Time Magazine's article, unedited, written by Julie Rowe:         

"Like so many other tales of cruise-ship crime, Janet Kelly's story begins with a cocktail and ends with a confidentiality agreement. Six years ago, on the last night of a Mexican cruise returning to Los Angeles, the Arizona businesswoman stopped at a poolside bar before dinner. The bartender, who in the days prior had been friendly but not overly flirtatious, handed her a fruity concoction that had an unwanted kick. Kelly, who is convinced that the drink was drugged, says she felt her legs go rubbery and her mind turn to mush as the bartender led her to an employees-only restroom and raped her before she passed out cold.

After flying home the next day, she went to a hospital and was tested for evidence of sexual assault. The FBI, which is the lead agency for investigating incidents involving U.S. citizens on the high seas, took several weeks to interview the bartender, who claimed what happened in that bathroom stall had been consensual. After her criminal case landed in the "he said, she said" file, Kelly sued the cruise line, which promptly fired the bartender for misconduct (even consensual sexcapades between crew members and passengers are officially verboten) and sent him home to Jamaica. Several months later, she discovered through private investigators that he had been hired by another cruise line.

What's unusual about Kelly's story--aside from the rehiring of the bartender, who was booted once again after his new boss learned he had falsified his employment records--is that she is able to tell so much of it. Unlike many other cruise-crime victims, Kelly, 49, settled her lawsuit with an agreement that allows her to talk about her experience, although she can't name the cruise line or the size of the settlement. This week she will testify before a congressional committee as it debates whether there needs to be greater federal oversight of the booming cruise industry, which served 11.2 million passengers last year, up 63% since 2000. Although the vast majority of passengers are American, cruise ships steer around most U.S. laws by registering in foreign countries. Because of murky jurisdiction issues, the companies report crimes to the FBI on a voluntary basis.

In the wake of several recent missing-persons cases aboard cruise ships--at least 28 in the past three years--lawmakers are trying to determine whether those incidents and other crimes at sea get reported accurately, let alone investigated and prosecuted. The politician leading the charge, Congressman Chris Shays, represents the Connecticut district that had been home to hunky George Smith IV - Missing - Disappearance - Cruise Ship  honeymooner George Smith, whose mysterious disappearance from a Royal Caribbean cruise in July was initially dismissed by the ship's captain as an accident or suicide, despite signs suggesting foul play. Among the dramatic elements that have emerged in the case: Smith drank absinthe, which may cause hallucinations, a few hours before he vanished in the Mediterranean; a giant bloodstain was found below his balcony; some of his drinking buddies, who deny any wrongdoing, got kicked off the boat a few days later after a female passenger accused them of rape.

The media frenzy surrounding the ongoing Smith investigation has dredged up other unsettling cases. One concerns Merrian Carver, a sometime investment banker from the Boston area who disappeared in 2004 during a weeklong Celebrity cruise to Alaska. Her cabin attendant has testified that when he reported his suspicion that she was no longer aboard three days into the voyage, he was told to keep putting fresh chocolates on her pillow. At the end of the trip, his supervisor placed Carver's belongings in storage without notifying her family or the authorities.

The supervisor was fired for what a company spokesman insists was a rare breakdown of a solid reporting system. But Shays isn't sold on that. He is trying to determine whether cruise lines are keeping some crimes off the books. "There's a huge incentive to downplay any incident, to sail on," says the centrist Republican. "Is going on a cruise the perfect way to commit the perfect crime?"

The few statistics available aren't too comforting. No one tracks the total number of incidents cruise ships report to U.S. law-enforcement agencies. The FBI opened just 305 cruise-crime investigations from 2000 to September 2005, suggesting that either those floating hotel-casinos are some of the safest places on earth or this caseload is just the tip of the iceberg. Evidence supporting the latter: the FBI generally won't look into an onboard theft unless the items stolen are worth more than $10,000.

Other countries appear to put even fewer resources into investigating cruise-ship crime. For instance, Reginald Ferguson, assistant crime commissioner for the Bahamas, in which many ships are registered, says his office has examined "maybe one or two incidents involving U.S. citizens over the last three or four years."

That means the only authorities most cruise-crime victims can turn to are the ship's security personnel, who have a strong incentive to protect the industry's fun-in-the-sun image. "The cruise line controls the scene of the crime, controls the witnesses, controls the evidence," says Miami attorney James Walker, who represented Kelly. "It's all being filtered through the company's risk-management department." Court documents seen by TIME back up that contention. In one case, a passenger who was examined on board for evidence of gang rape sued the cruise line after ship security, by allowing housekeeping to repeatedly steam-clean the carpet, failed to preserve the Janet Kelly - Jennifer Hagel - Cruise Crimealleged crime scene. In another case, a passenger accused of sexual assault testified that a ship security officer coached him to state that "no sex was performed by anyone." Cruise lines, says maritime lawyer Charles Lipcon, "are silently working against the victim. They're busy trying to make sure criminal cases don't see the light of day."

Perhaps that's the reason only 7% of the 135 federal investigations into sexual assault over the past five years were prosecuted. Why were 93% of the cases dropped? Says Bill Carter of the FBI: "By the time we can get to [the victim and witnesses], a period of time has passed, people's memories change, they were intoxicated, or there is a lack of evidence because it was cleaned."

Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, insists that the low incidence of reported crimes reflects the generally safe environment on the ships. Despite cases like Kelly's, he notes, cruise employees are vetted more rigorously than hospitality workers onshore and undergo a background check by the U.S. State Department. Royal Caribbean reported that its violent-crime rate last year was 15 incidents per 100,000 people on board. "We're approximately 30 times safer than American communities in general," says the company's head of fleet operations, Captain Bill Wright, who maintains that Royal Caribbean discloses every incident, even petty thefts, to authorities.

In response to the congressional probe, Crye says he and several cruise-line officials met with the FBI, the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection last month to "shore up any perceived deficiencies in reporting." At the same time, FBI assistant director Chris Swecker says he is considering development of a program to train cruise-industry security chiefs to improve evidence collection by using such tools as rape kits and blood tests for date-rape drugs.

But to Kelly and other victims of cruise-ship crimes, changes like those won't address the larger issue of whether the industry can be trusted to police itself. A recently formed activist group called International Cruise Victims is pushing to place the equivalent of federal air marshals on cruise ships.

That is undoubtedly an uphill battle, given the resources the industry has to oppose it. Carnival, the world's biggest cruise company, netted a record $353 million in the last quarter alone. And the George Smith case didn't stop Royal Caribbean from ending the year with a record profit of $716 million. The industry can use those deep pockets to stave off concerned lawmakers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, from January 2004 to July 2005, the cruise industry spent $2.9 million on federal lobbying, nearly $1 million more than Wal-Mart did during the same period. That may be why, according to Congressman Shays, "there's never been any real oversight. Ever." Kelly, for one, is prepared to take on the industry--and endure intense scrutiny along the way--because, she says, "you just keep thinking about the next poor sucker who climbs aboard."

Crime Rocks the Boats - Cruise Ship Crime  

Credit:  Julie Rowe, Time Magazine 

Cruise Disappearance Case of George Smith IV - Civil Case Settled But Is Justice Done?

The AP is reporting that a final settlement has been reached between Royal Caribbean and the wife and family of George Smith IV.  Royal Caribbean has paid the families and their counsel $1,310,000.  The cruise line has also turned over copies of certain investigation materials to the families.

George Smith IV - Disappearance - Royal Caribbean CruiseThe settlement arises out of an incident on July 5, 2005, when Mr. Smith disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey.  Mr. Smith was on his honeymoon with his new wife, Jennifer Hagel, following their wedding the week before. 

Before the cruise ended, the cruise line, Royal Caribbean, quickly concluded that Mr. Smith's death was an accident.  However, when photographs of Mr. Smith's blood on an awning below Mr. Smith's cabin began appearing on nightly television, the U.S. public began to question exactly what happened that night. 

Mr. Smith's bride, Jennifer Hagel, hired our firm to represent the estate of her husband. In turn, we retained a number of experts including forensic scientist Henry Lee to board the cruise ship and assist us in searching for answers.  Two Congressional hearings were convened, in December 2005 and March 2006, to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the cruise line's response to Mr. Smith's disappearance.  Subsequent Congressional hearings into passenger disappearances and cruise ship crime followed in 2007 and 2008. 

In June 2006, our client Jennifer Hagel reached a proposed settlement with Royal Caribbean on behalf of her husband's estate in the amount of $1,060,000 and an agreement by the cruise line to turn over its investigation materials to the Smith and Hagel families.  The Smith family objected to the settlement. 

In 2008, a Probate Court in Greenwich, Connecticut approved the settlement - finding that is was reasonable and in the best interests of all concerned.  The Smith family again objected to the Probate Court's order and the Smith family and Ms. Hagel have been litigating in Superior Court in Connecticut for the past two years.

The civil and probate cases are now settled.  Royal Caribbean increased its settlement offer by $250,000.  The cruise line has also made its investigation materials available to the families as originally agreed to in June 2006.

Mr. Smith's disappearance brought much needed attention to the issue of mysterious overboard passengers and shipboard crime.  These events set the stage for an unprecedented five Congressional hearings leading to President Obama's signing of the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act.       

To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has not concluded what happened in Mr. Smith's cabin in the early morning hours of July 5, 2005.  One of the four men last seen with Mr. Smith on the morning of July 5th, Gregory Rozenberg, is serving time in prison for drug trafficking.   

The AP article indicates that the FBI investigation is officially "open and active."  

The Greenwich Time, which was one of the first newspapers to cover the story in July 2005, published an article today "Smith Family Hopes for Answers After Cruise Ship Case Settles."  

January 6, 2012 Update:

Update on Disappearance of George Smith From Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Ship

 

The Death of George Allen Smith IV - Five Years Later

Five years ago yesterday, George Smith IV (below with his dad, George Smith III) disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship between Greece and Turkey.  This was a terrible, terrible night, which filled the public's imagination with speculation about what happened, night after night on the cable news programs. 

Behind the news, families grieved with hearts filled with heartbreak and sorrow.   

George Smith - Royal Caribbean Cruise  Mr. Smith's newly-wed bride, Jennifer Hagel, retained me to represent the interests of George's estate against Royal Caribbean.  I was tasked with trying to find out what happened and to hold those responsible for George's death accountable.  

I did the best I could, between a recalcitrant corporate-felon-of-a-cruise-line and families engulfed in grief.    

We reached an agreement that Royal Caribbean would pay $1,060,000 and reveal all of its investigation materials regarding George's death.   

This was the best result which could be obtained.  There is no doubt abut this, especially after 5 years of retrospection.  

There existed many obstacles in this case. There is an international treaty which exists called the Athens Convention which, if found applicable, would limit the cruise liability's liability to only around $70,000.  Not to mention the wicked "Death On The High Seas Act" which precludes damages other than financial compensation.  $1,060,000 and a disclosure of information by the cruise line was a great resolution, notwithstanding such a terrible loss of a young man's life.

But the Smith family (photo below right) has fought at every turn, to appeal the  probate court decision in their own home town affirming the decision in Jennifer's favor. 

Today, the news is filled  with the deaths of young men killed on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig, whose destroyed lives have all been calculated, by the calculus of wrongful death, to be less than $1,000,000 because of the soulless DOHSA law.  And these men were working when their lives were taken, with no hint that they were negligent for drinking or poor judgment or any fault of their own.  They were blown up by the malfeasance of the rig owner and operators.    

George Smith - Jennifer Hagel - Royal Caribbean CruiseYesterday, the Connecticut Post published a story about George's disappearance and the issues left unresolved following his death. 

You can read about the dreams of young George taking over his father's Cos Cob Liquor Store, juxtaposed with George's alleged abuse of alcohol and misuse of prescription drugs during the ill fated cruise.

This is a sad story.  There is no winner. The families are estranged.  The cruise line, Royal Caribbean, cares not a whit.  Can the Smith family move on from this debacle? 

Over the last five years, my wife and I have celebrated 10 birthdays of our two sons who are now 13 and 15 years old.  My boys have grown from third and fifth grade kids to young men entering eighth and tenth grade, over the course of the Smith familiy's nightmare. 

There is not a day that goes by that I forget how blessed I am to have my boys alive and healthy, and my family intact.

 

Credits:

Photographs    Greenwich Time

"Deadly Honeymoon" - Lifetime Movie Network - Cruise Disappearance

After endless promotional movie clips, Lifetime Movie Network (LMN) finally premiered "Deadly Honeymoon" tonight.  The movie is loosely based (very loosely based) on the tragic death of George Smith IV during his honeymoon cruise with our client, Jennifer Hagel, aboard Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship in July 2005. 

The movie follows two young newlyweds from Denver, Colorado as they embark on their honeymoon cruise from their "picture-perfect" wedding in Hawaii.  The actors in the TV movie are Chris Carmack as "Trevor Forrest" and Summer Glau who plays his newly wed wife, "Lindsey."

Chris Carmack - Trevor Forrest - George Smtih - Summer Glau - Lindsey - Jennifer Hagel - Deadly Honeymoon  LMN describes the dream vacation evolving into a night of "wild partying, infidelity and strange encounters with a group of passengers."

The next morning the passengers awake to find Trevor missing, presumed to have fallen overboard to his death.  But as the investigation proceeds, an FBI Investigator who just happens to be aboard the cruise ship questions whether Trevor’s death really was just an accident.

I had never heard of the Lifetime Movie Network before.  Now I know why. 

The movie is very dramatic.  But like most Hollywood productions it is ridiculous, having little to so with the actual facts of the case.  I can't imagine being a member of the Hagel or Smith families having to watch this nonsense.

In reality, was there "partying" during George Smith's cruise?  Yes, but what cruise ship doesn't have partying and drinking?  Was there "infidelity?"  No.  Were there "strange encounters" with other passengers?  Yes.  Passengers Josh Askin, Rusty Koffman and the two Rosenbergs who were last with George Smith on the night in question are motley characters, in my opinion.  Two nights after George Smith disappeared, they were accused of raping or watching the assault of a young woman on the cruise ship.  But Royal Caribbean had already sent their defense lawyers to the scene, and the charges were quickly dropped.  Greg Rosenberg, one of the men in George Smith's cabin before Mr. Smith went overboard, is reportedly serving time today on drug trafficking charges.  He is in prison at this moment. 

But does this movie, provide any insight into what happened on July 5, 2005 when the Brilliance of the Seas was sailing to Kusadasi, Turkey?  No.  

In real life, disappearances on cruise ships, whether due to crime or not, are rarely solved.  This is due to the failure of the cruise industry to protect U.S. passenger on foreign-flagged cruise ships like the Brilliance of the Seas. And the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to prosecute crimes which occur on the high seas.

In the last 10 years, over 130 passengers have "disappeared."  Most cases remain mysteries. This is something that cruise lines don't want the U.S. public to know.

July 6, 2010 Update - Five Years Later:

The Death of George Allen Smith IV - Five Years Later

September 14, 2010 Update On George Smith Disappearance Case:

There is now a final settlement - Cruise Disappearance Case of George Smith IV - Civil Case Settled But Is Justice Done?

January 2012 Update: Update on Disappearance of George Smith From Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas Cruise Ship

May 2012 Update: "New" Evidence in George Smith Case: "We Gave That Guy A Paragliding Lesson Without A Parachute"

 

Credit:            Lifetime Movie Network 

Trial Continued In Cruise Disappearance Case Of George Smith IV

The Greenwich Time newspaper reports that a trial scheduled for tomorrow in the disappearance of George Smith IV has been postponed.

The case arises out of the highly publicized disappearance of George Smith who was sailing on Royal Caribbean's cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas, in July 2005. 

A year later, the Smith family filed a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean which was dismissed at the trial court level, then re-filed and dismissed again.  An appellate court in Miami affirmed the dismissal.   

Smith Family - George Smith IV - MissingMr. Smith's widow, Jennifer Hagel, elected not to file suit and reached a proposed settlement with the cruise in the amount of $1,085,000.  In addition to the settlement funds, the cruise line agreed to permit Ms. Hagel and George Smith's family to review Royal Caribbean's internal investigation materials which would otherwise be privileged and immune from discovery. 

The Smith family objected to the settlement and tried to remove Ms. Hagel as the administrator of her husband's estate. 

After two years of litigation, in 2008 a probate court denied the Smith's family's motion to remove Ms. Hagel.  The Court approved the settlement, finding that it was reasonable and in the best interests of all concerned.

The Smith family appealed the probate court's order.  Appeals of probate cases in Connecticut result in new trials, rather than a decision by an appellate court.  The Smith family has been litigating against Ms. Hagel for the last two years and is continuing to try and remove her as the administrator of the estate. 

The trial scheduled for tomorrow has now been continued until October.        

Our firm represented Ms. Hagel in her case against the cruise line.  

 

Credits:

Photograph        CBS