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Lawsuit Accuses Relativity’s Ryan Kavanaugh Of Pressuring Maui Mayor To Fire Film Commissioner

Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh PC: AP Images/Invision
The former Maui film commissioner has filed a wrongful termination suit against the island’s mayor, accusing the mayor of firing him in 2013 at the request of Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, a longtime friend and booster of the mayor. Filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, the lawsuit, which is full of island intrigue and alleged influence peddling, claims that Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa fired his film commissioner, Harry Donenfeld, after Kavanaugh said he’d no longer support the mayor and his causes unless he got rid of him. And Donenfeld has the emails that he says proves it.

Kavanaugh, who declined comment for this story, is a big wheel on the small island. He’s had a residence there for years and is one of its largest property owners, and is a major contributor to the mayor’s charity. He’s also been pushing for tax incentives to build a mega-studio there, and for a doubling of the state’s tax incentives program to attract more film and TV productions to the islands, where Maui, which has long been a backwater Hawaiian film locale – a distant third to Oahu and Kauai.

But the studio mogul couldn’t stand the island’s film commissioner, who he thought was incompetent and getting in the way of Kavanaugh’s own projects there. He also blamed Donenfeld for putting the kibosh on his bid to get the County of Maui to invest in Safe Haven, the 2013 Relativity film starring Julianne Hough, which Kavanaugh said would have netted the county $30 million if it had filmed there. Donenfeld argued that it would have been wrong to have gambled the taxpayers’ money on the movie, which shot in North Carolina instead.

Emails between Kavanaugh and the mayor’s top staff reveal that Kavanaugh threatened to withdraw his support for the state’s movie tax bill and for the mayor’s charity unless Donenfeld was fired.

Those emails, some of which were cited in the lawsuit and other obtained by Deadline, show that Kavanaugh became particularly incensed upon reading a March 5, 2013, article in The Maui News that first revealed plans by Maui Film Studios to convert a 21,000-square-foot warehouse into sound stages – without taxpayer support. Donenfeld was a big supporter of that project, which later went bust.

“I read today’s announcement about the ‘Largest stages being built in Maui’ and I must say I’m really disappointed,” Kavanaugh said in an email sent that day to two of the mayor’s top staffers. “You guys may not be aware, but we have been at the state virtually every weekend this year…and we are very close to getting the bill passed. I’ve had three calls already today from different members of the (Hawaii) House and Senate as to ‘What the hell is this’ assuming we are involved.”

For the Full Story- CLICK HERE.

Story by: David Robb and was originally published at

Harry’s Complaint:


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