Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence indicating
’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the
founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.
The text messages, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, were among the materials turned over to federal prosecutors as part of their investigation into whether American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, attempted to extort Mr. Bezos, the people said. The U.S. attorney’s office has also been investigating whether Mr. Bezos’ phone was hacked, according to the people.
The evidence gathered by federal prosecutors includes a May 10, 2018, text message sent from the phone of
Mr. Bezos’ girlfriend, to her brother
containing a flirtatious message from the Amazon chief, the people said.
The Enquirer quoted the text in its January 2019 article about Mr. Bezos’ extramarital affair with Ms. Sanchez. A July 3, 2018, text message sent from Ms. Sanchez’s phone to her brother’s includes a photo of a shirtless Mr. Bezos.
Mr. Bezos’ security consultant,
Gavin de Becker,
suggested in an opinion article last year for the Daily Beast that Saudi Arabia might have had a hand in the Enquirer’s reporting on Mr. Bezos. The claim resurfaced this week after a forensic audit commissioned by Mr. Bezos alleged that his phone was hacked using a WhatsApp account associated with Saudi Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman.
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The text messages reviewed by the Journal, as well as a $200,000 payment Mr. Sanchez received from the Enquirer under an October 2018 contract the Journal also reviewed, supports American Media’s earlier statements that he was the source for the National Enquirer’s article.
The Saudi government said the allegation that the crown prince hacked Mr. Bezos’ phone was absurd and called for an investigation.
“In September of 2018, Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters,” a spokesman for American Media said Friday. He added that any suggestion that a third party, such as Saudi Arabia, “was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”
Mr. Sanchez declined to comment on the texts or his contract with American Media. “With spoon-fed lies and half-truths, Wall Street Journal keeps getting it wrong,” Mr. Sanchez said in an emailed statement.
Ms. Sanchez didn’t respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Mr. Bezos declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors haven’t charged Michael Sanchez, Lauren Sanchez or anyone else with a crime in the probe.
Mr. Bezos’ affair with Ms. Sanchez, a former television reporter who started an aerial film-production company, was publicized the same month he and his now ex-wife,
said their 25-year marriage was ending. They agreed to a divorce settlement in April.
Mr. Bezos, the richest man in the world, made a public appearance with Ms. Sanchez at an event in Mumbai on Jan. 16.
The Amazon chief is the owner of the Washington Post, where the late columnist
wrote critically of the kingdom’s leadership before he was slain last October by a Saudi security team. The CIA, in a secret assessment reviewed by the Journal, said that Prince Mohammed likely ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s death, although it acknowledged it didn’t have direct evidence of a kill order by the Saudi crown prince.
On Wednesday, United Nations officials probing Mr. Khashoggi’s death called on U.S. authorities to investigate the findings of the audit commissioned by Mr. Bezos.
The October 2018 contract between Mr. Sanchez and American Media gave the company exclusive rights to “certain information, photographs, and text messages documenting an affair between Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez.”
Mr. Sanchez, a talent agent who has managed television pundits and reality-show judges, declared in his contract with American Media that he acquired the texts and photographs lawfully, according to the agreement.
The New York Times earlier reported that American Media provided evidence to federal prosecutors that Ms. Sanchez sent texts to her brother involving Mr. Bezos.
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