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Amazon Web Services had embarked on a data center building boom to handle soaring demand as attendees gathered for its 2019 re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. Eleven data center deals are now the subject of a suit by Amazon vs. two former AWS real estate managers and others. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

The August 2017 meeting at an Amazon office in downtown Seattle was, by all appearances, a normal bit of business. Just another trio of ambitious, intense men gathering to make plans that could make money.

Amazon Web Services needed more capacity. The cloud giant was rushing to build data centers around the world to fuel a fast-growing business that three years later wouldgenerate more than $45 billion in annual revenue, helping to make its longtime leader, Andy Jassy, the Amazon board’s pick to succeed Jeff Bezos as CEO.

Two of the participants in the August 2017 meeting — Casey Kirschner, an AWS real estate manager, and Carl Nelson, Kirschner’s boss and mentor — were leading that physical expansion for Amazon. The third, Colorado developer Brian Watson, put himself forward as a person who could salve Amazon’s growing pains.

在接下来的两年半年内,奠定基础laid during the afternoon meeting at the West 8th building would support a $500 million data center building blitz, before allegations of secret kickbacks, bribery and double-dealing blew it apart.

取而代之的是一个民事诉讼和联邦刑事调查的网络。亚马逊声称这些人与其他人合谋赚取数百万美元的回扣to Nelson and Kirschner in exchange for directing AWS development deals to Watson’s company, Northstar Commercial Partners. The Department of Justice, acting in concert with Amazon, has also seized millions in proceeds related to 11 Virginia real estate deals involving Kirschner and Nelson.


卡尔·纳尔逊和沃森的律师分别声称,亚马逊没有证明任何数据中心租赁对这家科技巨头造成了损害,因为亚马逊没有为这些项目提供资金。沃森的资本合作伙伴IPI Partners是一家与Facebook创始人马克•扎克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)有关联的投资公司,它承担了90%以上的建设成本,而沃森则承担了其余的建设成本,由于亚马逊支付了租用的、为适应数据中心而建造的数据中心,它预计将从中获利。

An Amazon Web Services data center in Sterling, Va. (top) is one of the real estate deals in which Amazon alleges two former AWS real estate managers conspired with a real estate developer to receive kickbacks in exchange for the company’s business. Amazon was alerted to the alleged fraud by an email to Jeff Bezos in December 2019. (Loudon County Va. and U.S. District Court Images)

Attorneys representing Watson and Northstar claim Amazon and IPI sparked the federal investigation to cut Northstar out of millions in future profits.

In addition, Amazon hasn’t broken the data center leases alleged to have funded the kickbacks. Nor has the company canceled two contested land deals, one of which saw Nelson and Kirschner work with two Northstar employees to buy land in northern Virginia and sell it to Amazon — netting them a collective $18 million in the process.

在法庭文件中,尼尔森的律师要求his Amazon employment contract, inked in 2012 when he became the second member of the AWS real estate team, include broad allowances for outside work. They say the Justice Department has seized money he made independently of Amazon, and have taken Amy Nelson’s earnings as well.

Carl Nelson has filed his own suit against Amazon, alleging that the company has run afoul of Washington state’snew law restricting non-competition agreements. 他的律师还声称,亚马逊违反了他的合同,在弗吉尼亚州的联邦法院起诉他,而不是在协议规定的华盛顿州法院。

作为亚马逊认可外部商业活动的证据,以及公司高管自由使用合同条款的证据,纳尔逊的律师指出了部分原因Jassy对西雅图Kraken NHL特许经营权背后的所有权集团的投资,和亚马逊的随后购买球队竞技场的冠名权.


亚马逊的律师伊丽莎白帕佩兹(Elizabeth Papez)1月底在第四巡回上诉法院的一次听证会上说,沃森和数据中心开发商北极星(Northstar)“通过欺诈,特别是向我们公司内部腐败的内部人员行贿和回扣,获得了与我们的所有业务。”。


自从联邦调查局(FBI)抵达卡尔和艾米·纳尔逊(Amy Nelson)位于西雅图西部的家,已经过去了将近一年,他们几周前卖掉了这所房子,以支付日益增加的诉讼费用。

随后,内尔森夫妇的财政收入达892135美元,其中包括艾米·纳尔逊作为铆工公司(The Ricker)首席执行官赚取的数十万美元。铆工公司是一个职业女性网络,使艾米·纳尔逊一举成名after opening co-working spaces in Seattle andother key markets across the country.

Amy and Carl Nelson working on the original location of The Riveter co-working space in Seattle prior to its opening in 2017. (图片来自Instagram的艾米•纳尔逊,经许可发布。)

“It’s been devastating financially and emotionally,” said attorney Alex Little, who is representing the Nelson family. “The government has seized not only Carl’s money but also money that Amy independently earned.”

The seizures, Little continued, “required them to rely on the kindness of friends and family to stay afloat, while giving them no forum for more than nine months to challenge the accusations Amazon has made.”




In Amazon, Watson had an opportunity to achieve his dream, as he later explained, to “make everybody multi-millionaires.” He wanted to get Northstar out from under lenders like IPI Partners, the Chicago-based investment firm funded in part by ICONIQ Capital,a money manager to Silicon Valley’s elite with a client list that includes Zuckerberg. IPI was fronting nearly all the money for the data center developments.

“We’re not gonna have to depend on the IPIs of the world anymore,” Watson explained during a May 31, 2019 conversation recorded by a Northstar employee. “We’re gonna have our own capital, and we’re gonna kill it.”

凯西·克什纳已经和纳尔逊关系密切,纳尔逊将通过帮助亚马逊的发展,帮助北极星在房地产开发商中获得数百万美元的收入。Nelson曾与Casey Kirschner在西雅图的商业房地产领域合作,2015年Casey Kirschner来到亚马逊后,Nelson担任他的导师,并最终担任主管。Nelson负责其在美洲的房地产交易,而Casey Kirschner负责AWS最热门的地区北弗吉尼亚。

For AWS, real estate deals took two forms: build-to-suit leases and land purchases.

On the leases, developers working for Amazon built a data center’s shell, which Amazon filled. Amazon agreed to a lease ahead of time, paying the developer’s costs plus fees that amounted to profits. Monthly rents on the data centers Northstar helped build for Amazon run from $218,224 to $297,597, and the total value of each building and lease extends beyond $100 million. Northstar would have collected a portion of rents roughly equal to its investment in the projects, usually 5% to 10%. IPI received the rest.

The March 2018Northstar Commercial Partners press release宣布在弗吉尼亚州投资1亿美元开发数据中心,当时这是一家无名的财富20强公司。

Land deals were straightforward — a developer would scout for property wired to absorb a large data center. Amazon would then buy and build upon the land.

The month after their August 2017 meeting, Casey Kirschner sent Watson what Amazon now describes as a “sham” request for proposals on a 215,000-square-foot data center in Loudoun County, Virginia.



As contracts were awarded, Casey Kirschner requested that Northstar increase leasing fees charged to Amazon, which were in turn passed along to his brother’s trust account and paid out to Nelson, Casey Kirschner and others, Amazon’s attorneys contend. While the first project included a lease fee of 0.5%, the next set the fee at 2%, or roughly $1 million.

Financial transfers that Amazon contends demonstrate part of the alleged kickback scheme. (U.S. District Court document;单击以获取更大的图像.)

The transfers were plainly labeled as payments related to the Amazon projects, attorneys for Watson and the other defendants note. That Watson and Christian Kirschner did nothing to hide the transactions, they contend, demonstrates that the purported kickbacks were simply payments agreed to by Amazon. “The emperor,” one attorney remarked in court papers, “has no clothes.”



“It defies all logic and common sense that a massive and sophisticated real estate purchaser … could not determine the market prices for real estate in Virginia or that it approved transactions that it believed to be above market,” Calhoun told the court.



当时凯西·克什纳的律师斯科特·皮夫尼克(Scott Pivnick)在10月份的法庭上撰文称,亚马逊提供的“一个虚构的‘回扣’、‘贿赂’和自我交易的故事”与事实不符。


随着数据中心交易的签署,北极星和亚马逊员工之间的关系加深。亚马逊称,沃森于2019年3月出资让凯西·克什纳(Casey Kirschner)和他一起去新西兰打猎,并在当年晚些时候让他和纳尔逊去佛罗里达大沼泽地钓鱼。

In text message exchanges among Northstar account manager Kyle Ramstetter, Nelson and Casey Kirschner, the men discussed moving money.

“Flip me a couple buildings … and let me really line your pockets like we were discussing! ” Ramstetter wrote in a Dec. 17, 2018 message to Nelson, according to a copy of the exchange Amazon filed with the court.

The landscape changed in June 2019, when Nelson was fired from Amazon for reasons unrelated to the Northstar deals.

凯西柯式接管纳尔逊的组合Nelson turned his focus to his own real estate firm, Cheshire Ventures and AllCore Development. Nelson pitched projects to Amazon in the months that followed. He also kept working with Ramstetter, meeting with him that July at Denver International Airport.

In a conversation recorded by Ramstetter, the men dreamed about trips to the Florida Keys and, in Nelson’s case, chasing the developments “we want to chase.” Ramstetter was enthusiastic about a piece of land in Virginia. And he was nervous.

“I just don’t want to f— with Amazon,” Ramstetter said.

As payments flowed into Christian Kirschner’s trust account, Ramstetter and a Northstar colleague, financial analyst Will Camenson, set to work on that Virginia land deal. It would ultimately, if briefly, net Ramstetter, Camenson and their bankers nearly $18 million of Amazon money. Much of the money has since been seized by or surrendered to the Justice Department.

查克·库恩,维吉尼亚搬家公司奥古尔turned land speculator,曾在2018年斥资2000万美元收购位于华盛顿以东33英里的阿科拉镇(Arcola)外的89英亩土地。第二年夏天,拉姆斯特特和卡梅森控股的一家公司将以9870万美元收购这片土地。他们心中有个买家。

On July 30, 2019, Ramstetter and Camenson, working without Watson’s knowledge, bought the land and then sold it to Amazon for $116.4 million, turning a $17.7 million profit on land they owned for less than a day. Attorneys for Amazon contend Casey Kirschner supported the price internally at Amazon in exchange for a $5 million kickback, which he then allegedly split with Nelson.






A portion of the transcript from a recorded conversation between Northstar account manager Kyle Ramstetter and the head of the development firm, Brian Watson, over a land deal allegedly made without Watson’s knowledge. (U.S. District Court filing.)

“What we did for Amazon, that’s FBI,” Ramstetter told Watson, according to the transcript of the meeting.


Amazon wasn’t notified formally, though Casey Kirschner and Ramstetter discussed the meeting at length through WhatsApp.


“I’m sure he would be open to any solution as long as it resulted in lots of ,” Casey Kirschner texted Ramstetter, using the emojis for cash and a smiley face.

Ramstetter and Camenson were suspended and later fired after agreeing to pay Northstar $5 million of the proceeds from the sale. Amazon contends the money was deposited into Watson’s personal bank account. Ramstetter and Camenson have since forfeited the proceeds of the sale to the Justice Department, less the $5 million passed to Northstar, and Ramstetter’s attorney has said Ramstetter is cooperating with federal investigators.



亚马逊在2019年12月2日下午5点40分第一次得知Northstar和AWS员工之间有一个侧频道,当时有人以Northstar员工的身份向其发送了一封电子邮件, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s public email account.


“我想做一个秒告密者(亚博体育提现不出来complaint) or just calling a newspaper but honestly I have so much respect for what you have accomplished I feel better just telling you; not to mention I wouldn’t turn away compensation or some sort of professional engagement but we can see how this all plays out,” the message continued.


The investigation underway, Amazon continued to sign deals involving Nelson and Casey Kirschner. That Christmas Eve, Amazon bought a 100-acre property in Virginia from the Blueridge Group, a transaction Nelson helped facilitate. According to court records, the sale price, $83 million, included a $10 million fee paid in part to one of Nelson’s companies and Casey Kirschner.

Northstar’s chief operating officer came forward separately in early 2020, providing IPI with documents related to the payments and an audio recording of the showdown between Watson, Ramstetter and Camenson. The information was shared with Amazon almost immediately, which then contacted the Justice Department.

fo北极星项目公司的调查und that financial reporting was lacking, project budgets weren’t balanced and contractors were waiting months for a payment, according to an affidavit the company’s president filed on Amazon’s behalf. Contracts were being signed without IPI’s consent, including change orders totaling more than $50 million.

Investigations simmering for four months boiled over last April. FBI agents fanned out across the country as IPI took sole control of the nine leases its joint venture with Northstar was managing and Amazon brought the hammer down internally.


While some of the developments involved Northstar, several did not. Casey Kirschner’s connection, if any, to those other projects was not clear in court records. Amazon declined to comment on the matter, or answer any questions related to the litigation.

That same morning, April 2, 2020, FBI teams arrived at Nelson’s home in Seattle, and Watson’s in Denver. Agents seized electronics from both men and attempted to interview them.

That night, Watson sent an email to dozens of employees, colleagues and adversaries, the two FBI agents who visited his home among them. Several Amazon informants were included on the email, which carried the subject line “Last Words.”



Northstar’s attorneys now contend IPI wrongly cut Northstar out of what could be a nine-figure income stream and have, with Amazon’s help, “succeeded in inducing the Department of Justice to initiate grand jury proceedings against Mr. Watson.” Watson and Northstar have since sued IPI in Delaware, claiming they are due compensation in excess of $66 million.

When Northstar was pushed out, planning and construction were still underway at five of the nine data centers Amazon had awarded to the joint venture. Northstar argues the capital investment firm stands to reap a windfall when it sells the data centers in the years ahead.

An IPI spokesperson described Northstar’s lawsuit as “misleading” and containing “numerous inaccuracies,” and defended Watson’s ouster from the joint venture managing the leases with Amazon. “IPI responded reasonably and responsibly upon learning of very serious allegations of impropriety at Northstar,” the spokesperson said. “We stand firmly behind our decision to terminate Northstar ‘for cause.’”

10 months later, questions linger




Amazon also claims the former employees unfairly profited from the two Virginia land sales at issue in the lawsuit. The company has not offered detailed allegations as to how much money Nelson or Casey Kirschner made from the sales, though Amazon contends it was duped into paying millions to each man when it bought those parcels.

Attorneys for Nelson note he was no longer with Amazon when either land sale occurred, and assert他的合同didn’t prohibit outside work.

Little, Nelson’s attorney, said he would “let the contract speak for itself,” while describing it as a startup-style agreement offering generous terms to attract employees to what was, when Nelson joined it, a nascent part of AWS’s business.


Though the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Virginia declined to comment on the criminal investigation being pursued out of its office, court filings indicate investigators are collecting financial information on Watson, Nelson and Casey Kirschner.


Attorneys for the Nelsons contend the bank account seizures were baseless, and that the warrants were obtained “though incorrect, misleading, or incomplete allegations” recklessly advanced by federal prosecutors.

“I hope the government recognizes that the accusations Amazon made months ago have not proven to be true,” Little said. “There are far more worthy targets upon which to aim the full force of federal law enforcement.”


第四巡回上诉法院(Fourth Circuit of Appeals)预计将在未来几周做出裁决。该法院在1月底听取了与北极星债券有关的辩论。

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