‘I feel like we’re being hunted’: Amazon files appeal after judge rules in favor of local family

Amazon filed an appeal after a federal judge ruled in favor a former worker in a lawsuit filed by the company, accusing him of breaking his contract and stealing millions of dollars.

KIRO 7 spoke with Amy Nelson on Wednesday, a former attorney and the founder of The Riveter, who said her husband, Carleton Nelson, was one of the defendants in Amazon’s lawsuit they had filed in 2020.

Carleton Nelson had worked for Amazon Web Services for about seven years before he was fired in June 2019, she said.

“He was fired for yelling at a vendor at a bar on the phone after hours,” Nelson told KIRO 7.

But the Nelsons’ lives drastically changed the following year.

Nelson said Amazon later filed a lawsuit, which included her “innocent” husband.

Amazon’s original lawsuit was filed in April 2020, however, her husband was not listed as a defendant. But on April 2, she said the FBI arrived and raided her West Seattle home.

That’s when Nelson learned her husband was a target of a federal investigation.

“When the FBI knocked on our door on April 2, it was terrifying and confusing,” she said. “We had no idea why they were there.”

Nelson said the federal government had seized nearly $900,000 in their bank accounts.

“For 22 months during the pandemic, we had no money, and we had four little girls,” she said. “My dad got a kidney transplant in April of 2020, which was a life-saving kidney transplant. A month later, the government seized his bank accounts too.”

KIRO 7 reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to get more clarity. A spokesperson said they would not provide a statement at this time.

The lawsuit

Carleton Nelson was later added to an amended lawsuit in July, she said, which KIRO 7 was able to verify through court documents.

Within the lawsuit, Amazon filed 13 claims against Carleton Nelson along with other defendants.

The claims include lease transaction enterprise, direct purchase enterprise, detinue pursuant, fraud, tortious interference with contractual and/or business relations, civil conspiracy, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and constructive trust, conversion and constructive trust, alter ego/piercing the corporate veil, agency/respondeat superior, Robinson-Patman Act – antitrust violation and preliminary injunction.

The Nelsons were forced to sell their home, cars, and other belongings to defend Carleton’s innocence, Amy Nelson told KIRO 7, and later moved to Ohio.

“We had to take every step we could to stay alive to fight,” she said.

Nelson said they have spent more than $3 million in legal fees as of Wednesday.

“They (Amazon) paid dozens of lawyers to pursue our family -- I feel like we’re being hunted,” Nelson said. “The easiest way to describe the past four years for us, if you could imagine trying to live your life to feed your kids dinner, to do the laundry, and constantly be looking out your window feeling like there’s a sniper with a target on your head.”

“There hasn’t been a day where we could just live,” she added.

Carleton Nelson has never been charged in this case, Nelson said.

Nelson said the federal government returned 85% of their seized funds in February of 2022, with the agreement that they would not sue the government.

Amazon’s appeal

A federal judge ruled in favor of Nelson in Amazon’s lawsuit in 2023, however, Amazon recently filed an appeal Tuesday to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

According to court documents, Amazon did not appeal all original 13 claims, but only three instead – fraud, racketeering enterprise, and unjust enrichment.

“This appeal involves employees who defrauded their employer by accepting millions in bribes in exchange for steering real-estate development projects to favored parties,” the appeal wrote. “For more than two years, defendants Carleton Nelson and Casey Kirschner used their positions as Amazon employees to obtain nearly $10 million in kickbacks for themselves and co-conspirators in exchange for arranging lucrative Amazonfunded real-estate transactions for favored developers, including defendants Brian Watson and his company, Northstar.”

The global company did not appeal its original claim that Carleton Nelson had broken his contract.

“It’s more than my family. If Amazon can do it to us, they can do it to anyone,” Nelson said.

Nelson said her family will continue to stand up for Carleton’s innocence, hoping one day her family will be able to return to Seattle - a place they once considered home.

“My husband and I moved to Seattle in 2012 when we were dating. We got engaged on Alki Beach. I started a company in Capital Hill and employed over a 100 people. We meant to build a life there with our daughters. It was all they knew. I still miss it,” she said.

KIRO 7 has reached out to Amazon. A spokesperson said he would check with their legal team. We are still waiting to hear back.