- BuzzFeed reports that the man Elon Musk hired to investigate British diver Vernon Unsworth is a convicted felon with a history of fraud.
- According to multiple sources and public records, James Howard-Higgins served 18 months in prison for fraud. BuzzFeed also reports that he is currently back in prison for breaking parole.
- Howard-Higgins emailed Musk out of the blue on the same day he tweeted Vernon Unsworth was a "pedo guy," offering his services. Musk's family office paid him $50,000 to investigate Unsworth.
- A lawyer for Elon Musk told Business Insider that Howard-Higgins only provided Musk's family office with information "over the course of a few weeks" and that the relationship was terminated when he was "unable to provide verification of certain information."
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The astonishing legal battle between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the British diver Vern Unsworth, who Musk baselessly accused of being a "pedo guy", has taken a new turn.
BuzzFeed reports that Musk hired a man previously convicted of fraud to investigate Vernon Unsworth in an apparent attempt to prove the "pedo guy" assertion. Unsworth is currently suing Musk for defamation.
BuzzFeed spoke to former business partners of James Howard-Higgins, the man who was revealed to have been hired by Musk's family office in legal documents exposed by Unsworth's case against Musk.
A combination of interviews with his former business partners and publicly available documents revealed that Howard-Higgins had a history of fraud, and stole upwards of $525,000 from his company Orchid Maritime Security Ltd in the UK.
Howard-Higgins was reportedly charged with 14 counts of fraud, to which he pleaded guilty to seven. He then served served 18 months out of a three-year sentence in 2016.
The PI cold-emailed Musk after the Tesla CEO tweeted about Vernon Unsworth
According to BuzzFeed, Howard-Higgins "cold-emailed" Musk on the same day the Tesla CEO called Unsworth a "pedo guy" on Twitter. The insult was triggered by Unsworth criticising Musk's idea of sending miniature submarines to save the soccer team trapped in a Thai cave system. Unsworth himself had aided in the rescue effort.
Howard-Higgins did not use his full name in the email (he just called himself "James Howard") and said he could "dig deep" into Unsworth's personal life to guard Musk against any defamation allegations. He also wrote, "No smoke without fire!"
Howard-Higgins was paid $50,000 and funnelled information to Jared Birchall, the the president of Musk's family office. He claimed to have found that Unsworth had entered into a relationship with a 12-year-old girl. An attorney for Musk previously told Business Insider that Howard-Higgins' findings had been determined to be false.
When questioned about the hiring of Howard-Higgins, attorney for Elon Musk Alex Spiro told Business Insider on Friday: "Mr.Musk refused to be shaken down over a tweet, so his team hired someone who approached them with information and they thought was a legitimate investigator.
"Unbeknownst to them at the time, it now appears that he was engaged in his own fraud." He added that they terminated the engagement with Howard-Higgins "the moment there was reason to question [him]."
Spiro continued that Howard-Higgins had only worked for Musk and his team "over the course of a few weeks." When Howard-Higgins was unable to stand his claims up, the team "disengaged."
In his deposition for the defamation case, Musk said he retrospectively realised Howard-Higgins was "just taking us for a ride."
Sources told BuzzFeed that Howard-Higgins is currently serving jail-time again after breaking parole. Howard-Higgins did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed.