Wrongful-death suit against Soffer quickly dropped

01/02/2014 1:58 PM

01/02/2014 5:15 PM

A lawsuit accusing Jeffrey Soffer of causing a fatal helicopter crash was abruptly withdrawn this week, 22 days after its filing made national news thanks to the wealthy developer’s status as Elle Macpherson’s husband.

No explanation was given for dropping the wrongful-death suit, which was withdrawn Tuesday, and plaintiff lawyers could not be reached for interviews.

Soffer’s team said it had not reached a deal with plaintiff Daria Gogoleva, whose husband, Lance Valdez died in a 2012 helicopter crash in the Bahamas that also injured Soffer. Gogoleva’s suit accused Soffer, an amateur pilot, of improperly taking the controls of the chopper, then launching an extensive effort to blame the crash on the professional pilot who Valdez had hired to fly it.

Valdez, a wealthy tax attorney, arranged the helicopter ride as a way to get Soffer and two traveling companions onto an exclusive island resort during a visit. Valdez and Soffer were longtime friends.

Soffer’s lawyers called the federal suit a fabrication when it was filed Dec. 9, with Good Morning America and the celebrity press covering the accusations. Gogoleva’s lawyers gave interviews, including an on-camera statement for the GMA segment headlined: “Supermodel Spouse Conspiracy?”

“We were not surprised by the decision to withdraw this lawsuit, which was riddled with factual errors and unfounded accusations,” Soffer lawyer Bob Martinez said in a statement issued Thursday. “The case collapsed ... before we even had a chance to respond, confirming that it was a frivolous lawsuit.”

In a press release, Soffer’s lawyers noted the suit mentioned Machpherson as “part of an effort to grab headlines.” In one of the interviews he granted after filing suit, Gogoleva lawyer Jeffrey Rosenberg said his client became suspicious of Soffer’s intentions toward her when she was not invited to the Soffer-Macpherson wedding in August 2013.

In the suit, Gogoleva’s lawyers included an account from the helicopter’s pilot, David Pearce, that Soffer asked to take the controls of the chopper while it was in the air over the exclusive Bakers Bay golf resort in the Abacos on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

A crash followed, killing Valdez. The suit claimed Pearce, who told authorities he was in control of the helicopter, had changed his story and now said Soffer was flying. Soffer’s pilot license would not allow him to fly a helicopter, so the suit could have exposed Soffer to millions of dollars in liability for Valdez’s death.

Pearce, a professional pilot in the Bahamas, declined to comment when reached by phone on Thursday. He referred questions to Rosenberg, Gogoleva’s lawyer.

Also injured in the crash were Daniel Riordan, an executive at the Soffer family’s real estate firm, Turnberry, and Riordan’s wife, Paula. In the months after the crash, Soffer and the Riordans signed over their insurance claims to Gogoleva, resulting in a $2 million payout for the mother of three, according to the suit.

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