The former employer of Rey Rivera is pushing back on his portrayal in Netflix’s popular “Unsolved Mysteries” reboot, which raised questions about his involvement in Rivera’s 2006 death.
Porter Stansberry, who has not spoken publicly about the case since the first days of Rivera’s disappearance, told The Baltimore Sun that he was “shocked and hurt” by the show’s insinuations.
“The reason I’ve never commented about Rey’s death publicly first and foremost is because I never thought there was any mystery about why or how he died,” Stansberry, who runs an investment newsletter business, said in a phone interview.
Rivera, 32, was missing for a week before his body was found in a room at the base of the Belvedere Hotel, having apparently crashed through the roof after a fall.
The episode hit Netflix on July 1, and people interviewed for the show, including Rivera’s brother, Rivera’s wife, and the retired Baltimore homicide detective who worked the case in its first weeks, said Stansberry refused to cooperate with police and instructed his employees not to talk to detectives.
The episode never accuses Stansberry of foul play, but viewers were clearly pointed to Stansberry as a shadowy figure who existed off screen and might know more than he was saying.
“It’s completely untrue,” Stansberry said of the claims. “I did everything I could to help,” he said, including meeting with a detective in late June 2006.
“It’s horrific. You can’t even imagine what it’s like to tell people I had nothing to do with my friend’s death.”— Porter Stansberry, friend of Rey Rivera
“He had every opportunity to say this,” Rivera’s widow, Allison, told The Sun regarding Stansberry previously not commenting. They haven’t spoken since June 2006, she said. “The fact is: [Rivera’s death is] truly a mystery. There’s just no answers.”
But a second friend, Brad Hoppmann, who said he knew Rey Rivera since childhood and remained close with him up until his death, also believes the story has been twisted.
“This is a real conversation the world can have about mental illness and help people get help when they need it,” Hoppmann said, “and it turned into a murder mystery where they’re accusing people of being involved.”
Netflix did not respond to repeated messages sent to its public relations department, and the producers did not respond to messages sent through its website.
Rivera went missing on May 16, 2006, and a guest at his North Baltimore home said he darted out and never returned. Three then-co-workers discovered a hole in a sub-roof of the Belvedere Hotel in Mid-Town, and Rivera’s battered and decomposing body was found inside.
The mystery of his death was covered in the media at the time and was the subject of a 2018 book, “An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere,” by local author Mikita Brottman.
The show presents questions about how Rivera could have accessed the building’s roof, while his family members say he was not suicidal and did not have any known mental illness. His cellphone and glasses were found on the roof, relatively undamaged, which a retired homicide detective who worked the case said appeared “staged” to him. An engraved money clip he carried was never located.
Rivera also left behind a note, which contains strange comments including references to Freemasons and Stanley Kubrick. “I stand before you a man who understands the purpose and value of our secrets,” it says.
Though police said the circumstances pointed to a likely suicide, the medical examiner’s office ruled the death “undetermined,” saying there was not enough information to render a conclusion about whether it was a homicide, suicide or accident.
Rivera’s case was featured as the first episode of the new season of “Unsolved Mysteries,” and reached No. 1 trending on Netflix, leading to discussion and speculation on social media.
Stansberry said he has received death threats, and his family has been harassed online. He said he’s even been questioned by friends and potential business partners.
“It’s horrific,” Stansberry said. “You can’t even imagine what it’s like to tell people I had nothing to do with my friend’s death.”
Stansberry and Rivera went to high school together in California and were water polo teammates. Rivera, an aspiring screenwriter, had moved from Los Angeles with his wife to take what Stansberry says was an entry-level position at his company writing a financial newsletter called the “Rebound Report.”
When Rivera went missing, Stansberry said, he hired a private investigator, offered a reward and personally helped look for Rivera. Once the body was found, Stansberry said this week, “we were all sad and shocked by the fact that Rey killed himself, but once we saw all the facts and his financial pressures, it wasn’t much of a mystery.”
In the show, retired Baltimore homicide detective Michael Baier and Rivera’s wife say that after Rivera’s body was found, Stansberry refused to return calls from investigators and put a “gag order” on employees to keep them from talking.
“It’s completely a lie,” Stansberry said. “It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a lie.”
He said only that employees were told to refer media inquiries to a spokesperson. He said he personally spoke with a detective on June 23, 2006, which was after Baier was reassigned and when another detective, Marvin Sydnor, had the case. Sydnor did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, but Stansberry’s attorney Charles Curlett said he had spoken with him recently.
Allison Rivera said Tuesday that her information about Stansberry not cooperating came from Baier.
Stansberry says the show is wrong that Rivera worked for him at the time of his death and that Rivera had left the job six months earlier on his own accord.
“He resigned voluntarily — no ill will. He said he didn’t want to write in the newsletter world anymore” but didn’t have a solid next move lined up, Stansberry said.
At the time, Stansberry’s company was being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for selling fraudulent stock tips to investors in 2002, before Rivera joined the company. After a trial in 2005, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled in 2007 that “Stansberry’s conduct undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud, making statements that he knew to be false,” and issued a $1.5 million fine.
Stansberry said there’s no connection to those proceedings and Rivera.
Of particular interest in Rivera’s case is who placed a phone call to him that apparently precipitated him leaving his home.
“This is a real conversation the world can have about mental illness ... and it turned into a murder mystery where they’re accusing people of being involved.”— Brad Hoppmann, Rivera's friend
Allison Rivera has said the call came from the switchboard of Agora Publishing, and the specific caller could not be determined. Agora, a global publishing company headquartered in Baltimore, has several subsidiary companies, including Stanberry’s, and at the time all calls routed through a main switchboard.
A police spokeswoman on Tuesday said the call came from an “owned subsidiary company of Agora Publishing,” but declined to provide additional details, saying it was an open investigation.
Stansberry asserts that while the call might have come from someone at Agora — he says Rivera was doing freelance work for another Agora subsidiary after leaving Stanberry’s firm — it could not have come from his company.
“Every person in our company who had worked with Rey was on the Eastern Shore at the time that call was made, having a corporate retreat in St. Michael’s,” Stansberry said. “No one in my company was in town when Rey disappeared. The idea we were calling him from our switchboard is ridiculous.”
Stansberry said Rivera had also asked him previously if he was in leadership of the Freemasons, which Stansberry said he thought was a joke. He said when Rivera’s family and friends were searching for him, Rivera’s wife told him that the Saturday before he went missing, Rivera was “morose and would not get out of bed.”
“She told me she was very worried about his mental state at the time he disappeared,” Stansberry said. “I’m not the only friend Rey approached and said things that were very odd.”
Allison Rivera has said that her husband was in good spirits, though anxious about work. She said Tuesday that she couldn’t recall if she had such a conversation with Stansberry.
Hoppmann, Rey Rivera’s childhood friend, said not long before his death Rey repeatedly asked him about being a member of the Freemasons and discussing the film “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Hoppmann, who also worked for Stansberry at one time but says they are not close, said the week before his death Rivera asked to be able to visit his top-floor apartment in Jersey City alone. Rivera had a key to the place, but then returned it.
“He was acting really, really weird,” Hoppmann said.
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Brottman, the author of the 2018 book about Rivera’s death and a resident of the Belvedere, said the Netflix show interviewed her for hours, and that she told them the roof was easily accessed, and not a difficult task to reach as the show asserted. In her book, she explores the various theories and concludes that Rivera likely had a mental break and jumped from the roof.
“I think if they’d included my interviews it would have closed down a lot of speculation because it would have been obvious that a lot of avenues and angles had already been explored at length,” Brottman wrote on Reddit.
Stansberry said the case is being sensationalized.
“I think what’s really sad about this is that there are people in Hollywood who will do anything to craft a story to get attention, even when it comes to destroying someone’s reputation and trying to sensationalize the tragedy of a death of a 32-year old man,” Stansberry said.