Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter's Genetic Material Was Stolen

Thursday, 11 August 2016 - 12:24PM
Weird Science
Genetic Engineering
Thursday, 11 August 2016 - 12:24PM
Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter's Genetic Material Was Stolen
In today's installment of "truth is stranger than fiction," Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter may have been the victim of "genetic larceny." A judge recently ruled that the enigmatic billionaire had his DNA stolen by one of his neighbors in Palm Beach, in the midst of a scandal involving hate mail and tennis courts. You can't make this stuff up.

Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter has always been a controversial figure. He is the current CEO of Marvel Entertainment, although the company has been restructured around him, so Kevin Feige reports directly to the head of Disney. According to news reports at the time, this was largely due to Perlmutter's extreme cost-saving tendencies, as well as insensitive statements such as approving the replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in the Iron Man franchise because black people "look the same."

According to a thorough run-down from THR, he is also embroiled in a controversy in his personal life, which has spiraled into a series of lawsuits and apparent gene theft. A conflict between Perlmutter and his neighbor in Palm Beach, Perenboom, began years ago, and escalated into Perlmutter funding a third-party lawsuit against him, Peter Thiel-style, over the operation of some nearby tennis courts. Then, hate mail began circulating that accused Perenboom of all sorts of serious crimes, including the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl, and Perenboom was convinced that Perlmutter was responsible. 

And here's where things get really weird. Perenboom compelled Perlmutter to come to his lawyer's firm for a deposition. According to a judge's ruling in April after several days of testimony, Perlmutter was lured to the firm under false pretenses, and Perenboom and his lawyer were conspiring to steal Perlmutter's DNA. Perenboom had even hired a DNA testing facility, which provided him with special paper for the exhibits that is constructed to efficiently pick up DNA. After the sham deposition, in which Perlmutter was instructed to touch the exhibits, Perenboom sent his DNA off for testing. It's unclear whether there was ever a match between the hate mail and Perlmutter's DNA, but the New York Times reported Perenboom's camp's claims that there was a match to Perlmutter's wife, Laura. Perlmutter's camp claims that the DNA was planted (which isn't a totally unreasonable claim at this point) and that it's inadmissible in court.

And although there's no substantiation, there are also allegations that Perenboom stole Trump's DNA, just for kicks:

Opening quote
Perlmutter's camp also claims to THR that Perenboom has a private DNA data bank of many neighbors (he testified about going through their trash) and also has dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, with access to the drinking glass and silverware used by the Republican presidential candidate. Kasowitz responds that his client doesn't know Trump and considers the implication he harvested Trump's DNA to be ridiculous and untrue.
Closing quote

Every part of this story is insane, but the most insane part of it might be that "genetic larceny" isn't necessarily illegal. Gene theft is criminalized in Great Britain, but only five states in the US (Alaska, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Oregon) have illegalized the act, and three more (Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico) allow civil lawsuits. But in most places in the U.S., someone could violate your genetic privacy without consequence. 

Genetic Theft

[Credit: THR]



This is pretty frightening, considering that most bioethicists agree that taking someone's DNA without their permission is a severe violation of privacy. As anyone who's seen Gattaca knows, there is so much potential for abuse inherent in nonconsensual DNA collection. Especially in this day and age, with advanced DNA testing, a little bit of DNA could reveal plenty of personal information, including predisposition to disease, which could hurt someone's chances of getting a job, life insurance, etc. As we saw in the first case of genetic discrimination back in February, the law sorely needs to catch up with current technology.
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