The bizarre years-long drama behind the story of Jeff Bezos’ secret extramarital relationship is about to get even weirder. A shady figure affiliated with the National Enquirer claims in court that one of Hollywood’s most powerful players provided the supermarket tabloid with the sordid details of the affair.
After Bezos announced in 2018 he was separating from Mackenzie Bezos, his wife of 25 years, the National Enquirer revealed the world’s richest man was having an affair with Lauren Sanchez, a southern California-based television host and pilot. The sleazy supermarket tabloid’s series on the affair—which included racy text messages and suggestive photos between Bezos and Sanchez—set off a bizarre and sprawling public hunt for the source or sources of the information, roping in Sanchez’s now-estranged brother Michael Sanchez, top executives at Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., and even the Saudi government.
Now, Nikolaos Tzima Hatziefstathiou, a journalist with a strange and disturbing criminal history who reported the story with the National Enquirer and AMI (since rebranded as “A360 Media”), is claiming one major source of the information was Lauren Sanchez’s then-husband, William Morris Endeavor executive Patrick Whitesell.
Hatziefstathiou’s allegations are part of a defamation lawsuit Michael Sanchez brought this year against AMI, claiming that the tabloid media company lied when it outed him as the sole source of information about the Bezos affair.
In an affidavit filed by Michael Sanchez’s legal team, Hatziefstathiou claimed then-AMI-senior vice president Dylan Howard assigned him to look into Bezos’ affair after he was told about the relationship by Whitesell, the executive chairman of Endeavor, one of the most prominent talent agencies in the world.
Hatziefstathiou asserted that the affair was a convenient excuse for the Endeavor executive to break off his marriage, but AMI was intent on protecting him as a source.
“Mr. Whitesell discovered the Affair and, by serving as AMI’s secret, undisclosed source, literally turned the Affair into a ‘get out of divorce free card,’ allowing him to leave his wife… through a pre-planned divorce in which he appeared blameless and scandal-free, just months prior to WME’s planned initial public offering,” Hatziefstathiou wrote in the filing.
Representatives for Howard, Whitesell, and AMI/A360 did not immediately return requests for comment.
In Hatziefstathiou’s 2020 resignation letter from AMI, which is included in this week’s filing, he wrote that the company included “blatant lies” in its court filings related to the Bezos affair, saying AMI was misleading the courts about the source of information.
But the former AMI journalist himself has a dubious history of legal troubles which could color the court’s view of his reliability and veracity. In 2019, he was charged with 20 criminal counts for a bizarre scam in which he posed as journalists from the New York Times and Good Morning America and created a fake racist email that purported to be from a Delaware County Adult Probation and Parole officer.
As the Philly Voice noted, he previously pleaded guilty to calling law enforcement to report a disturbance at his neighbor’s home after sending dozens of prostitutes there, and was told by a judge to stop watching cop movies after trying to set up a drug dealer for the police.
Much of Hatziefstathiou’s testimony this week is a somewhat rambling of his defense of his own personal conduct and details of his reporting on the Bezos affair. Additionally, while Hatziefstathiou claims Whitesell was involved, the filing did not include any exhibits beyond his own testimony clearly linking the WME executive to AMI.
Still, Hatziefstathiou said in the filing he additionally has “ten terabytes” of data consisting of a million documents about AMI and his coverage of the Bezos affair to support his claims.
The question of who leaked information on the Bezos affair to AMI and the Enquirer has sparked a sprawling years-long hunt involving some of the shadiest players in the world of tabloid journalism, entertainment, and corporate espionage. In 2019, The Daily Beast first reported that Michael Sanchez was AMI’s source for the steamy text messages between his sister and Bezos, a revelation the Enquirer later confirmed.
In a court filing last July—AMI’s motion to dismiss Michael Sanchez’s lawsuit and sanction him for allegedly abusing the judicial system—the Enquirer’s parent company included a cache of emails, text messages and sworn statements from AMI employees that tended to finger Sanchez as the source of the salacious stories. The court documents painted a picture of Sanchez as a disloyal brother eager to sell out his married sister and her secret billionaire-lover.
AMI ultimately agreed to pay Sanchez $200,000, according to the July 2020 court filing, for “information, photographs, and text messages documenting an affair between Bezos and L. Sanchez.” It was, as it turned out, a losing proposition. Last month, after Los Angeles County Superior Court judge dismissed Michael Sanchez’s separate defamation lawsuit against Bezos and his security consultant Gavin de Becker, Sanchez was ordered to pay the billionaire $218,385 for Bezos’ legal costs.
AMI’s court filing, meanwhile, contained chronological inconsistencies, raising questions about the Enquirer’s initial source, that are outlined in detail in Hatziefstathiou’s affidavit alleging that it was Hollywood powerbroker Whitesell who first alerted the tabloid to the Bezos-Sanchez relationship.
The text messages, supplied by Michael Sanchez, weren’t the only salacious evidence of the affair in the Enquirer’s possession. And Sanchez maintained he was not the only AMI source, a theory Bezos’ camp seemed to share.
In a lengthy 2019 column for The Daily Beast, Bezos’ top security consultant Gavin de Becker wrote that his investigation concluded with “high confidence” that the “Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.” United Nations experts later lent credence to those claims.
While he suggested that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, de Becker publicly wondered why AMI itself almost seemed intent on outing Michael Sanchez as the Enquirer’s source. “What was unusual, very unusual, was how hard AMI people worked to publicly reveal their source’s identity,” he wrote. “First through strong hints they gave to me, and later through direct statements, AMI practically pinned a kick me’ sign on Michael Sanchez.”
Bezos wrote in a 2019 Medium post that AMI was trying to “blackmail” him, saying the media company was threatening to publish a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick [sic]’” unless the Washington Post stopped investigating the leak.
“Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here,” wrote Bezos. “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”