SAN DIEGO — A Superior Court judge here Friday awarded the Institute for Historical Review, a Costa Mesa organization that claims the number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust is wildly exaggerated, more than $6 million in damages as the outcome of a lengthy civil suit.
Officials for the institute, which was founded in 1979 and has been criticized by academicians and historians around the world, were suing its founder, Willis M. Carto, 69, who has been described by the Anti-Defamation League as "the No. 1 anti-Semite in America."
Carto, who lives in Escondido, left the institute in 1993 and continues to war with its directors in a flurry of lawsuits from California to Texas.
Carto's estranged colleagues allege he embezzled more than $7.5 million from the Legion for the Survival of Freedom, the institute's Houston-based parent company, which was also founded by Carto. The money had been willed to the institute in 1985 by an American expatriate, Jean Edison-Farrel, who reportedly moved to Switzerland to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
The lawsuit alleged that Carto had kept the money largely for himself, using it for a variety of other endeavors. The plaintiffs claimed Edison-Farrel intended the money solely for the institute, which was no longer privy to the assets after Carto left.
Though stopping short of using the term "embezzlement"--Carto has not been charged with any crime--Judge Runston G. Maino ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying Carto owed the institute and its parent company $6.43 million.
In his written ruling, Maino characterized Carto as a witness who could not be relied upon, who was "evasive and argumentative" and whose testimony during the recent 11-day civil trial in large part "made no sense. . . . By the end of the trial, I was of the opinion that Mr. Carto lacked candor, lacked memory and lacked the ability to be forthright about what he did honestly remember."
Attorneys for Carto could not be reached for comment Friday, but in a recent interview, his chief counsel, Randall Waier of Newport Beach, called the case and the other suits part of a massive power struggle between Carto and his former lieutenants.
Waier said that Carto "never pocketed a single penny" of Edison-Farrel's money and that the funds went entirely to Carto-backed causes that Edison-Farrel supported.
Mark Weber, co-director of the Costa Mesa institute, called the verdict "a complete vindication."
One of the interested bystanders to the trial was the Anti-Defamation League, a longtime adversary of both Carto and the institute.
Morris Casuto, regional director of the San Diego branch of the Anti-Defamation League, predicted that Carto would engage "in delaying tactics and appeals," but as for Friday's verdict, Casuto said he was reminded of a remark made by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war.
"It's a pity," Casuto said, "that only one side could lose."