LAS VEGAS - Magician David Copperfield is trying to recoup $500,000 he spent to free his show equipment from a company he believes may have links to the Russian mafia.
A lawsuit filed Friday in District Court contends that Fireman's Fund Insurance improperly denied a claim arising from the ordeal, which began in December and was resolved in January.
According to the lawsuit, the drama began Dec. 12 when some papers disappeared after Copperfield's final Moscow performance. The papers permitted Copperfield to shuttle more than $4 million worth of show equipment in and out of Russia without paying taxes.
Without the papers, the sealed trucks containing the equipment could not legally leave the country, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, Copperfield, 43, learned the papers were being held by the Ris LisS Corp., ''which was reputed to be linked to the Russian mafia,'' the lawsuit states.
Company officials said Copperfield would have to pay for the return of the papers or the property would be destroyed, according to the lawsuit.
Copperfield hired a law firm and Investigative Group International, whose chairman, Terry Lenzner, served as assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.
The lawsuit says IGI then hired an ''ex-KGB officer'' to help with the negotiations.
In January, IGI informed Copperfield that Ris LisS had agreed to return the papers in exchange for $250,000. The magician then wired $282,305 to IGI, an amount intended to cover the payment to Ris LisS, as well as the fees of IGI and the ex-KGB officer. The property could then be moved from Russia to Finland.
Copperfield subsequently filed an insurance claim seeking reimbursement of $506,343 spent retrieving the property.
But on April 21, Fireman's Fund denied payment, saying the magician's policy did not cover losses resulting from ''seizure or destruction of property by orders of governmental authority.''
''Fireman's Fund also denied coverage on the ground that the payment to Ris LisS Corporation was not necessarily incurred to avoid a loss, any more than proper packing of the goods or hiring qualified drivers would constitute a payment to avoid a loss,'' the lawsuit states.
Copperfield contends the insurance company acted in bad faith, as the taking of the papers was not a governmental act and the payment cannot properly be compared to hiring qualified drivers.
In the lawsuit, Copperfield is seeking payment of $506,343, as well as punitive damages in excess of $40,000.
Fireman's Fund officials were not available for comment Friday evening.