One focus of the months-long legal battle has been over Uber's use of a private investigative firm called Ergo, which is based in New York.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ordered Uber to hand over documents in the case. Plaintiff attorneys are trying to figure out what Uber's involvement, if any, was in an alleged incident in which an investigator working for the private investigative firm is said to have lied in order to obtain information about a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In his order, Rakoff said developments in the case provide a "reasonable factual basis to suspect that a fraud occurred and that Uber's communications may have been in furtherance of it."
According to the judge, plaintiffs alleged that an employee of Ergo contacted professional colleagues of the plaintiff's counsel Andrew Schmidt in order to develop information about him. The investigator allegedly falsely said he was compiling a profile of "up-and-coming labor lawyers in the United States."
Initially, according to the judge, a defense attorney said the Uber side was not involved in the phony phone calls. But later, the judge wrote, "both Uber and Ergo, while confirming the investigation, represented that Uber did not direct Ergo to make any misrepresentations in the course of the investigation and that any such misrepresentations were the fault, if any, of a misguided Ergo employee."
The judge did not like that. "There is a strong suggestion that, at a minimum, an Ergo investigator hired by Uber in connection with this case made false representations in order to gain access to information about plaintiff and his counsel," Rakoff wrote "thus raising a serious risk of perverting the processes of justice before this Court."
The judge's order says the individual at Ergo who conducted the investigation was Miguel Santos-Neves. Egeland, the CIA veteran at Ergo, "tasked Mr. Santos-Neves with conducting the investigation," the order says.
Egeland is a managing partner of Ergo, according to his biography on the firm's website. Egeland "leads Ergo's geopolitical risk and strategy consulting practice, and is responsible for managing relationships and developing new business with a broad array of private and public-sector clients," the bio says.