Lawsuit: Nessel campaign consultant accused of extortion

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — An explosive new federal lawsuit accuses a former campaign consultant for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel of attempting to extort a company that Nessel’s office is fighting over consumer complaints.

Dmitry Movsesyan of Oakland Count on Friday strongly denied claims by Executive Car Rental owner Maner Waad, who claims Movsesyan repeatedly cited his relationship with Nessel while offering to assist the company in the dispute, emailed the attorney general's office without authorization and demanded a $9,500 payment for his services. 

A text message photo sent by Dmitry Movsesyan in 2019 shows him driving Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, which her office said happened in 2017.

In a series of texts sent over several months and filed in federal court, Movsesyan sent Waad a picture of Nessel in his car, discussed his relationship with the attorney general and said he had discussed the consumer complaints against the company with "my girl," according to court filings.

The suit filed by Waad also accuses Movsesyan of hijacking Executive Car Rental’s Google business pages after boasting of his connection to an “underworld network” of Ukranian computer hackers, who he allegedly claimed had manipulated email accounts during the 2018 election to benefit Nessel. 

Attorney general spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney called the campaign email manipulation claim “horseshit” with no basis in truth. Nessel has not seen Movsesyan since she was elected or discussed with him “any matter” the Department of Attorney General is handling, she said in a subsequent statement.

“We are deeply concerned that Movsesyan apparently tried to use his brief encounters with AG Nessel to persuade Executive Car Rental that he could have any impact on the department’s investigation of the company," Rossman-McKinney said.

Reached by email, Movsesyan told The Detroit News “there is no ‘extortion’” and said Waad “refuses to pay money owed for work performed.” 

“Zero of this is true, especially any involvement of the AG,” Movsesyan said, calling Waad a “crook” who is trying to “dance around the complaints his customers filed against him.”

Movsesyan said he helped Waad “restructure his company, and he didn’t pay me once he realized that I will not attempt to influence the AG office in any way. I don't have that power, nor have I seen Dana Nessel since election night.”  

Attorney Steven Haney, who is representing Waad and Executive Car Rental, denied Mosesyan’s claims and stood by the lawsuit.

“The evidence speaks for itself,” Haney said, pointing to text messages cited in the complaint. “They pretty much tell the story. Outright extortion on a level I don’t know if I’ve seen in 20 years as a lawyer.”

How controversy began

The Attorney General’s office in January accused Executive Car Rental of violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and misleading customers, citing more than 400 complaints against the company and allegations it had withheld or delayed return of damage deposits.

The firm agreed to a voluntary assurance agreement with the Attorney General’s office in March that required it to take certain steps, but Nessel’s office in August alleged the company violated the agreement and served it with a notice of an intended lawsuit.

“The timing of the notice of suit creates a question of fact that defendant Movsesyan was correct in characterizing his conversation with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel,” Waad’s attorney claims in the suit.

Movsesyan worked for Nessel’s campaign as a contract information technology consultant in 2017 from roughly September through December and again in April 2018, Rossman-McKinney said.

“Attorney General Nessel has not seen Movsesyan since she was elected nor has the attorney general discussed with Movsesyan any matter the Department of the Attorney General is handling,” she said.

Waad founded Executive Car Rental in 2012 and now operates 16 locations in Michigan and Florida. It is one of the country’s largest independent car rental firms, according to the legal complaint, renting out more than 100,000 vehicles a year.

Movsesyan knew Waad from a past sales job, according to the suit, and texted the businessman in February. He sent a photo of himself wearing a Dana Nessel campaign T-shirt and told Waad to call him because “I may be helpful to you.”

The texts continued as Executive Car Rental attempted to resolve the consumer complaint dispute with the Attorney General’s office. In May, Movsesyan sent Waad a picture of himself in a car with Nessel, saying “oh look, it’s your favorite attorney general in my backseat.”

While the text appeared to suggest Movsesyan was with Nessel at the time, the photo was actually taken in the fall of 2017, said Rossman-McKinney. Movsesyan had driven Nessel to an event at Grand Valley State University because he wanted to take pictures to post on campaign social media accounts he had set up, she said.

The texts continued in June, when Movsesyan told Waad he was going to see Nessel. In July, Movsesyan sent an email to Assistant Attorney General Darrin Fowler describing himself as a chief marketing officer of the car rental company and requesting a meeting to discuss consumer complaints.

Fowler told Movsesyan that Executive Car Rental missed payments it had been required to send consumers and did not see the point in a meeting. He included the company's attorney in his response, and a public records request by The Detroit News did not reveal any additional communications.  

Tale of the texts

“Just spoke with my girl,” Movsesyan told Waad in a July 16 text message. “She is excited about (Executive Car Rental’s) commitment to deliver an honorable service to the residents of our great state.”

“Now you’re stuck with me,” he told Waad.

The lawsuit contends that any contact Movsesyan had with the Attorney General’s office was “without authorization and unbeknownst” to the company. “At no time relevant was (Movsesyan) employed in any such capacity or authorized to make representations on behalf of the company."

But Movsesyan told The News that Waad had asked him to write the email and reviewed it before it was sent. He had agreed to work for the company without a contract for three months, and Waad had introduced him as his vice president of marketing, he said.

Waad's attorney said Movsesyan was doing some "very minor" social media and marketing work for the firm. Waad ended up paying him $3,000 “under duress and the threat of continued economic harm to the company," the suit claims.

Movsesyan described his initial texts about Nessel as "more or less a joke" and denied his message to Waad about speaking to "my girl" about the company was a reference to Nessel. Another text he sent telling Waad he "better hope they don't call me to testify" was a warning that he would not lie to protect the company, Movsesyan said. 

Executive Car Rental accused either Movsesyan or related hackers of taking over the firm’s business pages on Google, making “disparaging responses to consumer complaints” that appear to come from the owner and directing consumers to file complaints with Nessel’s office.

“Movsesyan engaged in systematic extortion of the plaintiffs, which culminated with him alleging to enlist the hacking services of the same Ukrainians he suggested were involved in manipulating email accounts during the 2018 Michigan Attorney General Election for the benefit of Dana Nessel,” according to the suit.

Movsesyan told The News he had hired a friend in Ukraine to build a new website for Executive Car Rental. 

"He is a Wordpress website designer and (couldn't) hack his way out of a paper bag," he said. "This whole suit is a joke."

But Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox urged federal prosecutors to begin an immediate criminal investigation “of these extremely serious allegations of fraud and corruption.”

The lawsuit requests a jury trial and seeks “compensatory damages” from Movsesyan, along with an order he relinquish all control over company domains and password protected accounts.