UPDATED, Feb. 26, 1:42 pm: The Peninsula Beverly Hills believes it had its own Aldrich Ames manning the front desk.
The ultra-luxury hotel filed a lawsuit this week alleging that a former employee who defected to the nearby Waldorf Astoria, owned by developer Beny Alagem, engaged in a long-running plot to steal “lucrative Middle Eastern clients” from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The details of the legal filing, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, read like a spy thriller.
Officials at the 170-key Beverly Hills Waldorf — the crown jewel in the Hilton chain — allegedly conspired with a Peninsula employee to gain access to the names of Middle Eastern guests’ accounts.
The Peninsula has long been a home-away-from-home for elite Middle Easterners, who routinely run up multi-million dollar bills for their stays. Many come not only for shopping and medical visits but also for extended summer stays, booking luxury suites not only for themselves but also for their families and large entourages.
Peninsula officials allege in the lawsuit that its former diplomatic sales manager Houssem Tasco, who made frequent visits to the Gulf to cultivate guests, stole more than 45,000 documents containing room rates and the Middle Easterners’ personal preferences and idiosyncrasies.
Although Tasco was covered by a confidentiality agreement during his work for the Peninsula, the suit alleges that he acted as a “mole,” feeding the crucial information to Waldorf Beverly Hills – even while it was under construction.
The Waldorf subsequently hired Tasco — and gave him a hefty raise — to take a similar position at the new rival establishment.
According to the Journal, Peninsula’s lawyers stated in newly filed court documents that they had gained access to Tasco’s personal computer, which contained the confidential documents and other crucial paperwork about Middle Eastern guests.
Attorney Skip Miller told the Journal that the Tasco’s actions “definitely goes right to the top” of Hilton. “That’s where the responsibility lies,” Miller told the newspaper.
Alagem, the Israeli-born hotelier who has longstanding and contentious plans to develop further on an adjacent plot, was also named as a defendant. The suit contends he participated in the alleged scheme. But Harvey Englander, a spokesperson Alagem’s Oasis West Realty LLC, said the allegations against his client are false.
“The owner of the Peninsula Hotel has a long history of fighting other luxury hotels in Beverly Hills,” Englander said. “Fifteen years ago they spent about $2 million fighting the Montage Hotel. They hired lawyers and tried to fight the Wanda Hotel and the Waldorf before it was built.
Their recent actions against the Waldorf are just a continuation of their business practices. They are afraid of competition.”
A spokesperson for Hilton told the Journal that the allegations were “another example of the plaintiff mischaracterizing Hilton’s actions and intent.”
Hilton previously paid out $75 million to the Starwood chain to settle a similar complaint involving theft of confidential documents from W Hotel brand. [WSJ] — Tina Daunt
*This story was updated to include a response from Alagem’s Oasis West Realty LLC.