Michael Harris responds to Geller charges


Bob Mervine


Storm brews over Titanic

Business allies trade
allegations of theft,

Contributing Writer

ORLANDO – The silence over why and how Titanic expedition leader G. Michael Harris was sent packing has been broken: In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, RMS Titanic Inc. – the Clearwater company with sole rights to salvage the sunken vessel – alleges Harris stole company funds.
And Harris, breaking his silence for the first time on the issue, has responded with a volley of his own: He is suing RMS Titanic for breach of contract and plans a second suit, alleging defamation of character.
At the heart of the dispute is how, when and if artifacts from the rapidly disintegrating 90-year-old Titanic can be salvaged and displayed.
Harris, the colorful co-founder of the I-Drive attraction “Titanic: Ship of Dreams” and chief operating officer of RMS Titanic, was fired after being abruptly recalled from the stormy North Atlantic where he was salvaging treasures from the doomed vessel.
In his first in-depth interview since being fired, Harris claims that Arnie Geller, his former fellow executive and the current CEO of the company, set him up.
“Set up. Teed up. Slice!,” Harris exclaims, referring to what he called a plot to remove him from the company over basic philosophical issues involving the removal and sale of priceless artifacts from the ship. “I threw Geller off the (expedition) ship.”
“Sounds like a fantasy,” replies Geller from his Atlanta office. “A lot of fantasy. None of it is true.”
According to Geller, the company’s five-member board of directors was notified by an outside party of alleged financial improprieties; had them independently investigated, and, at a hastily called board meeting, voted unanimously to terminate Harris.
Geller declines to specify the charges, but, he says, the information about Harris was strong and compelling enough that he believed any stockholder would have made the same decision.
When pressed for specifics about the alleged misappropriations, Harris says he believes it involves his decision to spend $35,000 for medical insurance for the crew and to bring aboard a team of physicians and medical researchers.
“I didn’t steal anything,” says Harris, who insists all of his financial dealings were cleared through the company’s chief financial officer.
(Geller responds that the reported improprieties that were investigated did not include health insurance for the crew, adding, “Maybe we should look into that as well.”)
But Harris says he did lock horns with Joe Marsh, an Akron, Ohio-based entertainment manager with business ties to New York’s SFX Entertainment – and the owner of 3.2 million shares of RMS Titanic’s stock.
SFX is a New York-based firm run by Robert Sillerman that ranks as one of the country’s largest producers of live music, theater and sporting events. It also has a lucrative contract to present exhibitions of artifacts from the Titanic. In Orlando, for instance, the Titanic attraction, located at the Mercado Marketplace on International Drive, was supposed to become a permanent exhibit for SFX.
Marsh generated tremendous ill will before the summer expedition among “Titaniacs” – self-effacing slang for enthusiasts who follow the history of the ship, rivet by rivet. In interviews by Virginia Pilot reporter Marc Davis, Marsh was quoted as saying, “We all know there are billions of dollars down there under the water. It’s like sitting on a gold mine.
“We want the first-class mail. We want the first-class baggage. We want the safes and the purser’s bags. We know exactly where everything is. We can hit it like a target ... until we get everything there is to get.”
That put Marsh at sharp odds with Harris, who says he insisted that at least some of the ship, which went down with 1,500 on board, should remain off limits, even to his own company. That, he suggests, may have played a role in his sudden firing.
As for his next step? Harris already has filed suit in Pinellas County Circuit Court for breach of contract. “I haven't seen my family in three years. I worked 10- to 12-hour days for the last eight years. I’m not taking one penny less than they owe me” – about $2 million, counting salary, bonuses and raises.

Bill DeSena

Interesting stuff, we'll have to follow this closely thanks for bringing the news to this forum.