SeaWorld's CEO jumped ship while the company sank - but he's not getting out scot-free.
A complaint filed by a group of the company's investors this week claims that several confidential witnesses allege that the company's former CEO, Jim Atchison, profited off "suspicious" insider sales when he knew the company's revenue was being hurt by the documentary "Blackfish."
"I scratch my head if there's any notable impact from this film at all," Atchison told the Wall Street Journal in November 2013, referring to a recent 3.6 percent drop in SeaWorld's attendance. But the lawsuit alleges that Atchison was fully aware of the "Blackfish" effect at that time - and failed to alert shareholders. It wasn't until August 2014 that the company finally acknowledged the film's impact on its attendance during a quarterly earnings call.
Atchison has reportedly not disclosed the details of the trading plan that automatically dictates when his stocks are bought and sold, Orlando's WKMG News reports. "(The) sales were suspiciously timed in that they were Atchison's only sales" between the company's Initial Public Offering in April 2013 and a major dip (33 percent) in the company's stock in August 2014. Between that time, the lawsuit says that Atchison sold 154,000 shares of his personal stock, with proceeds of $4,662,235.
After a wake of backlash over the park's treatment of its captive orca whales, Atchison stepped down from his position in January; the company is currently on the hunt for a new CEO.
The investors, who originally filed suit in September, also alleged in new court documents this week that SeaWorld executives inflated the stock's price "in order to benefit their own personal financial situation with the proceeds from insider stock sales."
"(The) defendants knew or recklessly disregarded that 'Blackfish' was, in fact, causing a decline in SeaWorld's attendance and negatively harming its reputation."
The news comes at a time when the impact of "Blackfish" on the company's future is more obvious than ever. Last week, SeaWorld announced its fourth quarter earnings, reporting a drop in attendance of 1 million visitors over the previous year, as well as a continued downward revenue slide.