By Dietrich Knauth
(Reuters) – A U.S. bankruptcy judge on Tuesday allowed victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre to retain a forensic financial investigator to dig into the finances of bankrupt right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who for years falsely claimed that the shooting was a hoax.
Jones and his company Free Speech Systems have been found liable for $1.5 billion in two defamation trials over lies that Jones spread about the deadly elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The Sandy Hook families said that they need specialized assistance to review Jones’ assets, income, and ability to pay those verdicts.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez in Houston, Texas on Tuesday approved the families’ request to retain Nardello & Co, which is providing its services on a pro bono basis.
Jones’s attorney, Vickie Driver, told Lopez that Jones has had some difficulty in providing complete financial reports to the bankruptcy court. Jones filed preliminary financial statements earlier in February, but listed several trusts that held unknown assets.
“We are trying to locate every single trust and figure out what every single trust owns, and we are starting to get to what I would consider the final layers of the onion,” Driver said in court.
Jones filed for personal bankruptcy in December, saying he could afford to pay less than 1% of the judgments handed down in two Sandy Hook defamation trials. Lopez will decide in March if Jones has to face a third Sandy Hook defamation trial.
The families are also investigating Jones’ efforts to start new businesses outside of his Free Speech Systems network of companies, which filed for bankruptcy in July, including a new podcast called Alex Jones Live and a business that sells collectible silver coins.
The Sandy Hook families have expressed concern that Jones is using bankruptcy to limit payments on the defamation judgments while attempting to collect income outside of the bankruptcy court’s oversight.
Jones claimed for years that the 2012 killing of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School was staged as part of a government plot to seize Americans’ guns.
(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Richard Chang)