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Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s assistant seeks $93M from his estate

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s self-described ‘right-hand person’ is seeking more than $93million from his estate that she claims she is owed after he was killed when a fire ripped through a locked shed where he was sleeping.  

Jennifer ‘Mimi’ Pham, the 46-year-old tech tycoon’s former assistant, claims she deserves the bumper sum due to her involvement in a series of lucrative business deals. 

The largest claim by far, $75million, represents ‘the anticipated profit’ from Hsieh’s new venture in the documentary-movie streaming business, reports the Las Vegas Review Journal

The second-biggest claim, $7.5m, is ‘the anticipated profit’ from the Big Moose Yacht Club in Park City, Utah.

Jennifer ‘Mimi’ Pham, the 46-year-old tech mogul’s former assistant, claims she is owned the bumper sum due to her involvement in a series of business deals

Pham has filed a pair of lawsuits against the estate of Hsieh, who died in November after a fire in New London, Connecticut.

In the latest claim, filed last month in Nevada, Pham claimed that Hsieh had asked her to work on a new venture with his documentary movie company, Pickled Entertainment, LLC.  

The duo agreed a contract on Aug. 26, 2020, in which Pham, through her company, Mr. Taken, LLC, would ‘provide to [Hsieh’s] Company certain management and administrative support services,’ according to court papers. 

However, Richard and Andrew Hsieh, who are administrating their relative’s estate, say the contract was suspended on January 28. 

Pham also claims Hsieh hired her to oversee the Big Moose Yacht Club, the entrepreneur’s upmarket hotel in Park City, Utah. 

She claims she would manage space rentals at the site and at one point helped secure a business licence from the city. 

Pham’s earlier suit, filed on January 20, claimed she was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for her involvement in another venture.  

Her lawyers described their client as Hsieh’s ‘assistant, right hand person, and friend for 17 years before his death’.  

Hsieh died on Nov. 27, 2020, nine days after a fire broke out at house in New London, Connecticut, where he was staying with friends.

Hsieh died on Nov. 27, 2020, nine days after a fire broke out at house in New London, Connecticut, where he was staying with friends. Pictured is the shed where he died

Hsieh died on Nov. 27, 2020, nine days after a fire broke out at house in New London, Connecticut, where he was staying with friends. Pictured is the shed where he died 

Hsieh was staying at the home of a friend, Rachael Brown, and had gotten into an argument with her the night of the fire about the cleanliness of the house, another friend said

Hsieh was staying at the home of a friend, Rachael Brown, and had gotten into an argument with her the night of the fire about the cleanliness of the house, another friend said

Hsieh was surrounded by lit candles, a propane heater, Whip-It nitrous oxide chargers, a whipped cream dispenser, a marijuana pipe, and bottles of alcohol when a fire ripped through a locked shed where he slept. 

The latest findings in the two-month investigation were revealed in January on the same day that police body cam footage showed firefighters evacuate Hsieh from the scene of the blaze and rush him to a local hospital.

Fire crews responded to the scene after the blaze tore through a locked shed in which Hsieh slept in the early morning. 

The New London, Connecticut fire marshal said that the cause of the fire which tore through the shed at his girlfriend’s home was inconclusive, though his report left open several possibilities.

Investigators believe the fire was caused either by a portable propane heater; discarded cigarettes and marijuana; ‘misuse of candles’; or ‘carelessness or even an intentional act by Hsieh could have started this fire.’ 

Hsieh died from complications of smoke inhalation, the state chief medical examiner’s ruled.

Hsieh was staying at the home of a friend, Rachael Brown, and had gotten into an argument with her the night of the fire about the cleanliness of the house, another friend told investigators. 

It was not clear if the November 18 blaze was an accident or intentional, New London Fire Marshal Vernon Skau said in the report.  

A report by the fire marshal found that Hsieh had lit candles, a propane heater, Whip-It nitrous oxide chargers, whip cream dispenser, a marijuana pipe, and bottles of alcohol with him at the time of the blaze

A report by the fire marshal found that Hsieh had lit candles, a propane heater, Whip-It nitrous oxide chargers, whip cream dispenser, a marijuana pipe, and bottles of alcohol with him at the time of the blaze

The shed (on the right) is attached to the waterfront home of Rachel Brown, Hsieh's girlfriend

The shed (on the right) is attached to the waterfront home of Rachel Brown, Hsieh’s girlfriend

Hsieh may have carelessly discarded smoking materials or misused candles while using a propane heater in a storage shed attached to a riverfront home, but it was possible he intentionally set it, the report said.

There was also evidence that Hsieh was intoxicated or impaired at the time, though investigators are unsure how or if that impacted the blaze. 

Hsieh was known to have developed an addiction to nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas. 

Nitrous oxide can be inhaled from balloons or from small canisters known as ‘whippets’, using a whipped cream dispenser. 

Friends said that before the fire, Hsieh was about to get on a plane to fly to Hawaii, where he planned on entering rehab for treatment of drug addiction. 

Hsieh, Brown, and six others were staying at the home on 500 Pequot Avenue on the night of November 17 and were getting ready to fly to Maui the next morning.

Just before midnight, an argument erupted between Hsieh and Brown in which she is heard asking him to leave. 

Hsieh’s brother, Andrew, and an employee, Brett Gorman, tried to mediate between the two. 

Hsieh, Brown, and six others were staying at the home on 500 Pequot Avenue on the night of November 17 and were getting ready to fly to Maui the next morning. Just before midnight, an argument erupted between Hsieh and Brown in which she is heard asking him to leave. Brown and Hsieh are pictured in Las Vegas in December 2017

Hsieh, Brown, and six others were staying at the home on 500 Pequot Avenue on the night of November 17 and were getting ready to fly to Maui the next morning. Just before midnight, an argument erupted between Hsieh and Brown in which she is heard asking him to leave. Brown and Hsieh are pictured in Las Vegas in December 2017 

Moments later, Hsieh went to sleep in the pool shed, according to KTNV-TV

Gorman told investigators that Hsieh brought a portable propane heater into the shed in order to stay warm, but that the others objected.

Gorman then went to check on Hsieh at around 1:30am, according to witnesses.

Other friends also checked in on Hsieh, though witness statements and surveillance footage showed that he would at times reply to knocks on the door with a knock back.

One witness told investigators that they had observed Hsieh start a smaller fire that night when the flame of a candle that he had lit made contact with a blanket.

That fire was quickly extinguished, according to the fire department.

Hsieh’s friends were heard on surveillance footage warning him about the candles that he had lit and the potential for danger. 

Shortly before the fire, witnesses told investigators, Hsieh had lit a small plastic bag on fire to keep warm inside the shed.  

The New London fire marshal's report contains this illustration which shows the location of Hsieh's body relative to where the blaze originated

The New London fire marshal’s report contains this illustration which shows the location of Hsieh’s body relative to where the blaze originated

Fire investigators released a timeline of the events leading up to the blaze that ripped through Hsieh's shed

Fire investigators released a timeline of the events leading up to the blaze that ripped through Hsieh’s shed

The temperature that night was about 34 degrees.

A friend said, ‘you’re going to smoke yourself out’ and ‘that’s poison,’ and Hsieh responded, ‘It’s poisonous but I used it to light a fire,’ according to the report.

The fire marshal said that it was possible but unlikely that the blaze was caused by a portable propane heater or improperly discarded smoking material.  

The shed was locked with a keypad deadbolt when firefighters arrived. 

At around 3:20am, Andrew knocked on the door of the shed to let Tony know it was time to leave for the airport, according to the fire marshal.

Tony then asked Andrew to come back in five minutes. A minute later, a carbon monoxide alarm could be heard going off, and then ‘a noise consistent with the relief valve on a propane tank,’ the report said. 

What is a whippet?  

Whippet is the name for the small metal canisters which can be filled with nitrous oxide – otherwise known as laughing gas – and inhaled using a dispenser such as a whipped cream dispenser.

Nitrous oxide is also sometimes inhaled from balloons.

It gives users an intense high that lasts anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute.

 

Its usage is most common with young adults and college students, and is often used in conjunction with other drugs to accelerate the high.

Alarming side-effects include strokes, hallucinations, seizures, blackouts, incontinence, heart stress on the heart, chronic depression and even — in cases of prolonged use — depleted bone marrow.  

‘The smoke emanating from the shed escalates dramatically at this point,’ according to fire officials.  

Andrew returned to the shed with another friend and the two tried to kick down the door, which had been locked. Firefighters quickly arrived on the scene, broke down the door, and rushed Tony to the hospital.

According to the police report, Tony was placed on a ventilator and was suffering from swelling of the brain from the fire’s hot gasses and the soot.

He was later flown to the Connecticut Burn Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he died nine days later. 

Friends of Hsieh told DailyMail.com days after the blaze that they were worried about his drug addiction, which included frequent use of nitrous oxide whippets and alcohol, was spiraling out of control and likely contributed to his death. 

They said they were worried that his addiction to laughing gas nitrous oxide and his love of candles put his life in danger. 

‘In recent months the nitrous oxide had become as important to Tony as his alcohol,’ one close colleague said. 

‘And Grey Goose vodka was his best friend.’

Although nitrous oxide is not flammable it does accelerate the burning of combustible material that is already alight, according to PubChem

Hsieh was pulled unconscious from the burning shed attached to girlfriend Rachel Brown’s waterfront home in New London, Connecticut, shortly after 3:30 am on November 18. 

He died of complications from smoke inhalation nine days later. 

A dispatch tape obtained by DailyMail.com revealed that he was ‘barricaded’ inside the shed.

‘The male is barricaded inside and not answering the door,’ the dispatcher says.

‘Everyone else is outside the house. They are trying to get him to open up.’

Firefighters had to force their way in to drag him out, but they were too late to save his life.

The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has already ruled his death accidental and that he died of complications of smoke inhalation.  

Hsieh had recently retired from Zappos after 20 years leading the online shoe retailer. 

He was a Harvard University graduate who joined the company – then called ShoeSite.com – in 1999.

Zappos was sold to Amazon for $1.2billion in 2009, but Hsieh had remained with the company until his retirement. 


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