On Thursday, a New York state judge will hear from both sides in a legal tug-of-war over the fate of the vessel. The District-based owner of the yacht claims that FE Partners, a company controlled by a wealthy family in India, offered him a loan with the intention of seizing it for a “fire-sale price.” The company being sued says it agreed to lend the money to keep the yacht from ending up in Russia and that it discovered undisclosed problems with the vessel’s management.
Gary Silversmith, who lives in Bethesda, filed the suit in New York State Supreme Court asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would bar FE Partners from buying the yacht, which is normally docked at the Gangplank Marina off Maine Avenue in Southwest Washington.
The company “is attempting to squeeze me,” Silversmith states in the suit. “Moreover, this American icon will probably be moved overseas, and it will no longer serve the American public and many worthwhile charities.”
The company, FE Partners, called the suit “grossly inaccurate and without merit.”
The imposing 104-foot, four-stateroom yacht offered an escape from the White House for every president from Herbert Hoover through Gerald R. Ford. In 1977, Jimmy Carter, who saw the yacht as an unnecessary extravagance, had it auctioned off — but not without criticism. From his “White House Diary”: “I was quite surprised when this sale aroused public and media criticism that persisted long after I left office. Some historians, political writers and political opponents claimed I was failing to honor the history and legacy of the U.S. Presidency.”
Silversmith, who fell in love with presidential lore at the age of 8 when he wrote a letter to Truman and the 33rd president wrote him back, purchased the yacht for $1.9 million in 2000. He spent millions more renovating the vessel and now uses it to entertain world leaders, run a charter business (rental price: $12,500 for four hours) and host charity events for the Boy Scouts and injured soldiers.
All of that is now at risk, Silversmith maintains.
Silversmith, according to his lawsuit, accepted a loan last year for $5 million from FE Partners, but received only about half of the funds. Within weeks, he began receiving default notices for alleged incidents that could affect the operation of the yacht. More than 35 notices were sent, with one charging that Silversmith failed to pay his crew on time and another claiming that guests brought prostitutes on board.