Last Updated May 25, 2016 5:15 PM EDT
Silicon Valley billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel secretly bankrolled former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker, "a shared enemy," Forbes magazine reports. A jury awarded Hogan $140 million in March over his sex tape that appeared on the website.
Thiel is one of the most respected names in venture capital, reports CBS News' Josh Elliott. He was an early investor in companies like Facebook and LinkedIn. Now he's making headlines for his alleged investment in the Hogan trial. Paying someone else's legal bills is not against the law.
Hogan was a wrestling star for years, but he won the biggest court fight of his life in March. Many wondered where Hogan was getting the money to fund his expensive court battle over a leaked sex tape that Gawker posted online.
Thiel is a "contrarian figure," according the Forbes staff writer who broke the story, Ryan Mac.
"He's told kids not to go to college. He's supported Donald Trump, which isn't a very popular stance in a very liberal Silicon Valley," Mac said.
Thiel is now open about being gay, but that wasn't the case back in 2007 when Gawker tried to "out" him. Two years later, Thiel criticized the way he was covered in the now-defunct Gawker offshoot Valleywag, calling it "the Silicon Valley equivalent of al Qaeda."
"His animosity kind of runs deep.... I'm not sure if he's acting on that, or if he's been thinking about doing this for some time now," Mac said.
Gawker appealed the Hulk Hogan verdict, but on Wednesday a Florida judge rejected the company's request for a new trial and refused to reduce the damages.
The company's net revenue is a reported $45 million dollars a year, and its lawyer says paying the $140 million judgment would be "ruinous." With these new revelations, some say this fight has now gone beyond freedom of the press and the right to privacy.
"With Thiel entering the fray... you get this third element of an individual who has a lot of power, and is wielding that power to potentially affect a publication who's written some unflattering things about him," Mac said.
Gawker issued a statement saying: "We look forward to the legal process continuing and expect to be vindicated. Just days after Gawker Media's site Gizmodo exposed that Facebook's news section has suppressed certain points of view, we've now learned that a Facebook board member and a major funder of The Committee to Protect Journalists has been secretly funding a legal campaign against our journalists. There are very serious questions about whether Hulk Hogan financially benefitted and this case is far from over."
CBS News also reached out to Hogan and Thiel for comment on the Forbes report, but they have not gotten back to us.