For years, Michael Sanchez operated on the periphery of Hollywood. The small-time talent manager’s clients included a clutch of Trump associates, a cable news personality and a judge on the reality TV show “So You Think You Can Dance,” with whom he would later wage a bitter legal fight.
But within the space of two weeks, Sanchez has emerged as a pivotal figure in a widening scandal involving the world’s richest man — Jeff Bezos — and the National Enquirer. In a bombshell blog post last week, Bezos claimed that the Enquirer had obtained graphic photos as well as text messages he had sent to his paramour Lauren Sanchez — Michael’s sister— and threatened to publish them if he didn’t end his investigation into the tabloid’s expose.
What role Michael may have played in the Bezos controversy remains a subject of intense debate, with each side pushing its own accounts of how naked selfies of the Amazon CEO ended up in the hands of a supermarket tabloid, fueling several overlapping conspiracy theories involving national security, the White House, Hollywood, and even the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Bezos’ security team has identified Michael Sanchez as the likely source of the leaks. A person familiar with the probe who was not authorized to discuss it said Sanchez has been a longtime source for the Enquirer and had access to his sister’s text messages. The person would not characterize how Sanchez had gained access.
Sanchez, who was questioned by Bezos’ investigator, told The Times that he was cleared as being the source of the graphic photos, but he didn’t comment on the other leaked content. “I was thrilled to learn ... Amazon investigators determined I had no involvement whatsoever in the [penis] pics,” Sanchez said in a text message.
(Amazon is not involved in the investigation.)
It’s not clear what impact the scandal has had on the siblings’ relationship, although a friend of Michael’s said his sister “is very upset” by the situation.
Lauren Sanchez could not be reached for comment.
Michael Sanchez has maintained a close relationship with his sister over the years, and has even represented her professionally as a manager.
The siblings, raised in New Mexico, both embarked on media-related careers in the L.A. area. Lauren worked as a local news journalist, co-hosting “Good Day LA” on Fox 11, and later worked on the celebrity news show “Extra.” She was also a host of “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Since then, Lauren, a helicopter and aircraft pilot, has built a considerable business as an aviation cinematographer with her Black Ops Aviation. The Santa Monica-based production company has worked on such movies as “Dunkirk” and has shot footage of Bezos’ space tourism outfit Blue Origin based in Kent, Wash.
The e-commerce mogul announced his divorce from his wife, MacKenzie, in a surprise Twitter message in January. Lauren Sanchez remains married to Patrick Whitesell, the executive chairman of Endeavor, one of Hollywood’s most powerful talent agencies.
On Twitter, Michael Sanchez has posted comments blaming Bezos’ investigator Gavin de Becker for stories in the Daily Beast and the Daily Mail that identified him as the leaker. He also jabbed Bezos for his ownership of the Washington Post.
“Gavin de Becker, @JeffBezos right hand man, spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories, ‘dog whistle’ smears, with on-the-record quotes to trashy tabloids; all while his boss owns @washingtonpost & @Amazon. Huh? Remind me, who was in charge of security?”
De Becker declined to comment.
Many people in the entertainment industry hadn’t heard of Michael Sanchez until recently. His client roster was hardly filled with marquee names and tended to skew politically conservative. He has represented cable news pundit Scottie Nell Hughes, a supporter of President Trump who has appeared on CNN and Fox News; and dancer Mary Murphy, an alumna of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Both clients have been embroiled in their own separate legal disputes.
Voter records show that Leonard Michael Sanchez is 53 and a registered Republican. He has resided variously in the Hollywood Hills, West Hollywood and Laguna Beach. Sanchez married his husband Casey Ashby in 2011.
Not shy about his conservative affiliation — even in liberal Hollywood — Sanchez wrote a letter to The Times in 2016, describing himself as “a gay man, a Hispanic, a West Hollywood homeowner and strong supporter of Trump.” He was writing to complain about a proposal by the mayor of West Hollywood to deny Trump’s campaign an event permit, were it ever to request one, which it had not.
As the head of a small L.A.-based company called Axis Management, he has inserted himself into the world of right-wing politics, associating and speaking by phone on occasion with two prominent Trump allies — Roger Stone and Carter Page — though it remains unclear how close their relationships are. An associate of Sanchez said he met Stone two years ago in L.A. through a mutual friend and that Michael called him recently to discuss the Bezos matter.
Page, who served as a policy advisor in the Trump campaign, said that Michael Sanchez was his agent for Politicon in October, at the L.A. Convention Center. He said they have remained in contact even after the Bezos scandal broke. “We talk from time to time,” Page said.
When reached for comment, Stone denied any involvement in the Bezos leak.
“I’m a convenient foil, but I have no involvement in this whatsoever,” said the political operative. Stone was arrested last month by the FBI on charges that he misled members of Congress as part of special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, but he has maintained his innocence.
The political dimension of the Bezos scandal has drawn abundant attention, given Trump’s public excoriations of the Bezos-owned Washington Post. The Amazon billionaire has also laid blame on David Pecker — the head of American Media Inc., which owns the Enquirer — who has been a close Trump ally for years.
Bezos strongly implied in his blog post that Saudi Arabia could also have a connection to the leak, noting that AMI and Pecker have ties to the kingdom. Adel Jubeir, the country’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the kingdom had “nothing to do with” the leak.
Michael Sanchez himself has had a close and sometimes complex relationship with the Enquirer. He has placed stories about his clients in the tabloid since 2005, according to an individual with knowledge of the relationship.
Scottie Nell Hughes, the cable news pundit managed at one point by Sanchez, ended up in the Enquirer during her legal feud in 2017 with Fox News, in which she claimed she was fired after accusing Fox Business Network host Charles Payne of rape. Payne denied the claim. But in a twist, Sanchez alleged at the time that it was Fox that leaked Hughes’ identity to the Enquirer as part of a smear campaign against her.
The case was settled last year, the same month Hughes joined RT, the Russian state cable news network, as an anchor.
Hughes could not be reached for comment.
Legal trouble seems to follow Michael Sanchez. He filed for personal bankruptcy in 2010. Among the debts he listed was a $165,000 person loan from his sister.
Two years later, he got into a nasty dispute with Mary Murphy, the “So You Think You Can Dance” performer. Sanchez, who was Murphy’s manager, sued Murphy over unpaid commissions. The suit was eventually decided in Murphy’s favor.
Murphy could not be reached for comment.