For Actor Don Johnson, $8 Billion Worth of Bad Publicity in Germany

Times Staff Writer

Here’s a mystery for Nash Bridges: What was actor Don Johnson doing in a car in Germany last November with a suitcase containing credit notes and other securities that customs officials said were worth $8 billion?

The Los Angeles attorney for the former star of TV’s “Nash Bridges” and “Miami Vice” detective shows says Johnson, 53, was simply a producer trying to find film financing in Europe and that the “securities” were actually financial documents related to the deal.

Although German customs officials say they have no evidence that any crime has occurred, attorney Ronald Litz claims recent news reports about the case not only defamed his client but also caused the deal to unravel.


“The poor guy was just trying to get money for a film,” Litz said. “The deal was about to close this week and now the investors are afraid he is involved in money-laundering. But the documents weren’t his. They were the investors’.

“Unfortunately, with all this publicity, the investors have gotten concerned,” Litz added. “He may be losing some millions of dollars -- not billions, thank you. He has suffered humiliation.” Litz said they are looking into hiring a lawyer to sue a German tabloid that broke the story.

The events leading up to what has become a public-relations disaster for Johnson began when German customs officials stopped a car near the Swiss border Nov. 6. With Johnson in the car were his personal assistant and an unnamed Swiss financial advisor. Litz said they had been in Zurich for a meeting with unnamed Americans, potential investors in a slate of movies Johnson was to produce.

Litz said Johnson wanted proof the investors were serious.

“”The people he met with provided Don with resumes and bank statements that showed they had the ability to perform. So Don takes these documents and gives them to his assistant, who puts them in his suitcase and they proceed to Germany,” Litz said.

Elliot Mintz, Johnson’s longtime publicist, said the actor was en route to a Daimler-Chrysler plant in Germany to look at the new Mercedes-Benz Maybach luxury automobile. “He’s a car buff and wanted to check it out.”

German customs officials did not confiscate the documents but made photocopies and returned them. No charges have been filed. German officials did inform U.S. tax and customs authorities about the find.


“At this stage, we’re only assessing the documents,” Wolfgang Schmitz, a spokesman for the customs office in Cologne, told Bloomberg News. “After that, we’ll decide whether we’ll start with investigations.”

But Joerg Groener, a spokesman for the local Customs Investigation Department in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told Bloomberg, “There’s a reasonable suspicion that Mr. Johnson was working for others. If everything is legal, you don’t have to transport documents worth this amount in a car.”

Johnson told Reuters on Wednesday, “There is no truth to this story. They have taken a routine incident and blown it up into this money-laundering ring that supposedly I am involved in, and it has caused me unbelievable difficulty.

“I have had two bank accounts closed. I’m in a new partnership in an investment business and both of those bank accounts were closed today as a result of this story,” he said.

Litz noted that the case holding the documents didn’t even belong to the actor.

Johnson, whose films include 1996’s “Tin Cup” with Kevin Costner, was once married to actress Melanie Griffith. His current wife, with whom he has two young children, is the former Kelley Phleger, a San Francisco debutante and nursery school teacher. They lease a home in Beverly Hills and have a ranch near Aspen, Colo.