NORTH PORT, Fla. - Brian Laundrie retained a high-powered defense team in Wyoming with his parents' money more than a week before his fiancée Gabby Petito was reported missing, according to the latest amended complaint filed in the Petito family lawsuit against Laundrie's parents and their attorney.
Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt allege Chris and Roberta Laundrie and their attorney Steve Bertolino knew Petito was dead as well as the location of her remains but gave Petito's parents false hope she'd be found alive, all while attempting to protect their son, causing severe emotional distress.
The new document, filed Thursday after Petito lawyer Pat Reilly deposed the Laundries and Bertolino, claims that Laundrie told his parents in a "frantic" phone call on Aug. 29, 2021, "that Gabby was ‘gone’ and he needed a lawyer."
On Sept. 2, 2021, according to the document, Laundrie's parents relayed that information to Bertolino and sent him a retainer. That same day, the filing states, "Bertolino entered into a fee agreement with Fleener Peterson LLC," a criminal defense firm in Laramie, a six-hour drive from where Petito's remains were found. She had been bludgeoned and strangled.
Just two weeks before Petito's murder, witnesses in Moab, Utah, called police to report seeing Laundrie hitting her in public.
The Wyoming firm's partner, Tom Fleener, is an Army veteran who became a JAG lawyer and was profiled in GQ in 2017 for representing Guantanamo Bay detainee Ali al Bahlul. Fleener declined to comment on the Laundrie matter when contacted Friday by Fox News Digital.
Bertolino confirmed to Fox News Digital Friday that he collected a $25,000 retainer from the Laundries and used it to pay Fleener Peterson. He said he has not collected any payment from the Laundries for his legal role in the saga.
Bertolino also contacted other firms in the state, including a public defender in Teton County, where Petito's remains were recovered Sept. 19, 2021, according to the filing.
Lawsuit's 2021 timeline in question:
- 8/27: Gabby Petito last seen alive in Jackson, Wyoming
- 8/29: Brian Laundrie tells parents Gabby is "gone" in "frantic" phone call
- 8/30: Brian sends phony text to Nichole Schmidt from Gabby's number
- 9/1: Brian arrives at his parents' Florida house, driving Gabby's van
- 9/2: Christopher and Roberta Laundrie retain Steve Bertolino
- 9/2: Bertolino enters a fee agreement with Wyoming law firm on Brian's behalf
- 9/6-7: Laundrie family goes camping at Fort DeSoto Park
- 9/10: Roberta blocks Nichole's phone and blocks her on Facebook
- 9/11: Gabby reported missing
- 9/13: Brian runs away "grieving" and later kills himself, according to the FBI, leaving behind a notebook confession
- 9/14: Bertolino releases statement on behalf of the Laundries, expressing "hope" that Gabby is found and "reunited with her family"
Central to the lawsuit is a Sept. 14, 2021, statement in which Bertolino, speaking on behalf of the Laundries, told reporters it was the Laundries' "hope" that Gabby would be found and "reunited with her family," a statement that Petito and Schmidt say is outrageous due to the Laundries' alleged knowledge of Petito's murder.
GABBY PETITO CASE: Brian Laundrie's mom drives to deposition in killer son's Mustang
Bertolino told Fox News Digital Friday the family felt pressured to say something – even though they had the right to remain silent – because of widespread media coverage and "throngs of people" outside the Laundrie home, including protesters carrying megaphones.
He also said that, in reaching out to Fleener Peterson and telling his clients not to discuss the case, he did what any defense attorney would do and that Richard Stafford, an attorney for Petito's family, said he would have taken similar measures during his own deposition in the lawsuit last month. Stafford did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. Neither did Reilly, who is handling the civil lawsuit.
"Brian was incoherent, beside himself and couldn't communicate," Bertolino said. Laundrie reportedly cut the phone call short and, as a result, Bertolino says, his parents had no knowledge of Petito's murder. Bertolino is awaiting the court's decision on whether he can be forced to discuss his own conversations with Brian Laundrie.
Laundrie, however, never called. He hopped in Petito's van and drove it to his parents' house in Florida, leaving her remains behind in northwestern Wyoming.
The lawsuit alleges the Laundries had direct knowledge of Petito's death and likely knowledge of the whereabouts of her remains when they went on a camping trip with the children and grandchildren in early September, before Petito's mother was able to report her daughter missing.
Brian Laundrie confessed to killing Petito in a suicide note found near his remains in the Florida swamp about 10 minutes from his parents' house in North Port.
But, for days after her death, he sent fake text messages to himself and to Petito's mom from her phone, as if she were still alive.
The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20.
Since the case grabbed national headlines in 2021, Petito's parents have become advocates for missing persons and domestic violence victims.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE).
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