Businessman Threatens To Sue Blogger For Defamation; Blogger Says 'Bring It On'

from the may-no-bull-go-un-effed-with dept

Another day, another blogger being sued for defamation. There are a couple of differences here, however. To begin with, this blogger (Billy Jones) is welcoming the lawsuit (albeit in the way a raccoon frozen in the headlights "welcomes" an oncoming vehicle). His statement in response to the lawsuit threat, via Jim Romenesko, reads as follows:

I look forward to going to court against Rocco Scarfone. After all, I have no assets, nothing to lose, nothing of value. What are they going to take from me — 7 chickens?
The other difference in this case is that the law firm (Rossabi, Black and Slaughter) threatening to sue the blogger has actually pointed out specific statements its client has objections to, rather than relying simply on vague claims, bluster and intimidation. The letter Jones received lists each objectionable statement, along with the blog posts they came from. (Pictures of the letter here and here.)

Here's the letter in full.
Dear Mr. Jones,

Our firm represents Rocco Scarfone. This letter serves as my client's notice that your blog, greensboroperformingarts.blogspot.com recently published false and defamatory statements regarding my client as follows:

1. False and Defamatory Statements contained in the September 28, 2012 post, "Rocky Scarfone, More Failed Greensboro Leadership":

(a) "Several of my biker friends there who grew up with Scarfone in New Jersey told me of his underworld connections."

(b) "There's been a mafia presence in Greensboro for over 50 years but until Rocky came to town they let the biker[s] be."

(c ) "I mentioned Scarfone's underworld connections in a blog thread at Yes! Weekly."

(d) "A simple search for [R]ocky [S]carfone Greensboro will tell you all kinds of things you may or may not know about the man a simple background check could have warned 'Greensboro leaders' about long before he tried to cover up shootings in his night clubs, drug dealings and other crimes against the citizens of Greensboro."

(e) "Nor do I eat at Hams or any other establishment I know to be owned by Rocky Scarfone. I don't knowingly spend my money with mobsters."
2. False and Defamatory Statements contained in the December 30, 2013 post, "Rocco Scarfone Partners With Councilman Zack Matheny: Greensboro House of Blues":

(a) "Scarfone… is said to be a former prize fighter who is said to have been banned from professional boxing for fixing fights and taking the fall as a young man in New Jersey with known connections to human trafficking and the importation of illegal aliens, has a history of covering up shootings in his clubs, and was involved in tax evasion in multiple states…"

(b) "Rocco is and will always be a gangster."

(c ) "George Hartzman asks Councilman Zack Matheny if Matheny has a business relationship with the gangster, Rocco Scarfone."
3. False and Defamatory Statements contained in the January 17, 2014 post, "Rocco Scarfone Steals Woman's Wedding Ring And What Really Happened To Joey Medaloni":

(a) "I was told a story recently about how local mobster Rocco Scarfone collected debts on a business deal that went bad by forcefully taking the wedding band from the finger of the wife of the man with whom he'd made the deal."

(b) "Rocco's primary business is and has long been money laundering."

As a result of your publication of false and defamatory statements about Mr. Scarfone, I demand that you publish, in the main section of your blog, a retraction of all the statements referred herein, along with any apology to Mr. Scarfone. If you fail to publish a retraction and an apology as requested within ten (10) days, I will sue for, among other things defamation.

Very truly yours,

Amiel J. Rossabi
Rocco "Rocky" Scarfone (born Joe Baffa) is a prominent business owner in the Greensboro, NC area and has also spent a considerable amount of time helming a Christian ministry called Lighthouse Outreach. What Scarfone seems most interested in excising is anything that implies he still has Mafia connections or otherwise portrays him as a "gangster." Scarfone did, at one time, have Mob connections. His own biographical book details his youth as a member of the Mob as he attempted to follow in his father's footsteps. The following is taken from the book description for Scarfone's "House of Cards."
A biography that reads like fiction, winner of the "O Georgia Award", endorsed by numerous prominent public figures, House Of Cards delivers the Mafia in a unique manner. After five generations of blood shed, Rocky is born handicapped, struggles to walk and be like his .45 carrying father, and, just when he realizes his goal, loses his father to a bloody Mafia Hit. The course of events will soon produce the circumstances for Rocky to become the first to seek an end to his family's long standing Mafia ties.
This would seem to indicate that Jones' statements about Scarfone's "underworld connections" are based on fact. The argument would then shift to Jones' implications that Scarfone is still connected to the Mafia.

Many of the other troublesome quotes are, again, based on factual occurrences. Jones notes in his nine multi-part response post that his comments are linked to news stories elsewhere on the web.

His accusations about Scarfone being in the money laundering business are only tenuously linked. The nightclubs Scarfone owns once belonged to Joey Medaloni, who was indicted on federal charges of falsely obtaining loans.

As for the accusation of human trafficking, Jones points to a story in Yes! Weekly that details the criminal activities of Scarfone's partners in the nightclub business, one of which (George Harrison) is tied to a staffing company that was raided by ICE for deploying undocumented immigrants. Again, this is a very loose "tie" that has been polished into more accusatory tones by Jones.

The shooting coverup statement also has a factual basis. Scarfone's strip club, LAX, had its liquor license suspended after a shooting in the parking lot. A press release from the city of Raleigh described his club personnel's actions this way.
A Nov. 13 press release issued from Raleigh characterizes club management’s response to the shooting as a “cover-up” and quotes Williams as saying, “The sworn affidavits received by the ABC Commission indicate that this business failed to assist victims of violence in their own parking lot and then covered up the shooting and destroyed evidence.
The coverup was denied by Scarfone and his club's management, and nothing seems to have been conclusively proven (accusations were made about security tape alterations and the club staff's refusal to come to the aid of the shooting victim, and there are some discrepancies between the narrative and the police reports). But that's the thing about coverups: if done right, it looks as though nothing untoward has occurred. Again, Jones makes a statement and links to a news story that arrives at the same conclusion. It's hard to prove defamation when the accused has sources.

The "Rocco Scarfone is and always will be a gangster" is taken somewhat out of context, removing this leading sentence:
Scarfone, also a former Chippendales dancer, was convicted by a grand jury for extortion and five counts of fraud in 1987.
Again, Jones links to an article detailing Scarfone's past as a dancer, as well as his indictments.

So, despite his legal team actually taking the time to detail each allegedly defamatory statement, there still seems to a be a lot of gray area for Jones to play in. But wishing for a head-on courtroom collision is never a good idea, even if you've got nothing but "seven chickens" to your name. There's more to a court battle than losing assets. There's a whole lot of intermediate bleeding that can be done, especially if the plaintiff is in a better financial position.

Scarfone is also more used to courtroom battles. Even his efforts in the youth ministry field have a litigious paper trail. He sued another minister, Tom Papania (along with Focus on the Family), for allegedly stealing his Mafia thug-to-man of God story and using it as his own. The court battle ran 31 months before Scarfone/Baffa dismissed it with prejudice. (Scarfone's entire battle with Papania spans 13 years in total according to emails he sent a colleague.) This battle even included a dispute over a domain name (tompapnia.com) which Scarfone had registered to "spread the truth" about Papania's alleged hijacking of Scarfone's life story. (ICANN found in favor of Scarfone.)

Scarfone has also been cited in court documents as a confidential informant, which would seem to suggest his underworld connections are more recent than his boyhood memoir indicates.

This is hardly an open-and-shut case for either party. Jones' posts are sometimes backed up by fact, while other times he's reporting hearsay. Jones seems to be relishing the chance to perform some discovery and expose Scarfone's "underworld connections" and (allegedly) criminal behavior. Scarfone's wish for Jones' blogging to vanish are understandable, especially if he abandoned a life of crime years ago. But there seems to be enough bad news floating around to suggest this maybe isn't the case.

Somewhat bafflingly, Scarfone's lawyer (he has apparently decided to cut loose the "fool" who represented him in his battle against Tom Papania) closes the letter with threats to sue for defamation "among other things." I'm not sure if that was included to make the threat seem "bigger" or if the law firm has something else in mind for Jones that it's not sharing with the rest of us. The ten-day window "granted" by the law firm for Jones to delete the offending posts and post an apology expires on Feb. 13th and, judging from Jones' call for more Scarfone dirt, it appears this will pass without compliance. I suppose shortly after that we'll find out what "other things" the law firm has in mind.

This is one of those odd ones where it appears someone just wants to shut down criticism but may actually have a case at the same time. If Scarfone is truly still dabbling in criminal behavior, I doubt he would want to face discovery. Then again, maybe he's truly clean, and like his blogging nemesis, truly has nothing to lose by going to court. Jones' posts definitely carry a malicious tone, something that doesn't help when fighting defamation charges and much of what he links to only tenuously matches his actual claims. Boiling it all down, I don't truly see a clear good guy or bad guy. Both parties seem to carry a certain amount of moral turpitude, and any further reports I have on this will mostly be based on my (admittedly unhealthy) desire to witness a good fight.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2014 @ 1:15pm

    So how many gangsters actually get to just walk away from the mob and live happily ever after, any?

    I doubt it.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2014 @ 1:17pm

    Lawyers are trained to avoid language that forecloses other options unless specifically intended. "Among other things" was probably just the result of the same instinct that causes attorneys to spam "including but not limited to" when it isn't really necessary.

     

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  3.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Feb 14th, 2014 @ 1:40pm

    We don't like it when politicians pass laws that duplicate or worsen existing laws for the same behavior when "on the internet," or when patents are given for normal everyday practices that happen to be "on the internet". So why do we care about a defamation case just because it is "on the internet?"

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2014 @ 3:19pm

    Even his efforts in the youth ministry field have a litigious paper trail. He sued another minister, Tom Papania (along with Focus on the Family), for allegedly stealing his Mafia thug-to-man of God story and using it as his own.
    "But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren."
    -1 Corinthians 6:6-8

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    The Old Man in The Sea, Feb 14th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Re:

    You missed the even more relevant verses which follow:

    "Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God."

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11

    There are many today who tell their story and where they are from and rejoice when others join them from their former life-styles.

    It reminds me of a story I was told of a Vietnamese man who became a Christian. He so annoyed the authorities that he would be thrown into prison with the worst of the worst. On one occasion, he was thrown in a cell with (from what I remember) 12 other highly violent men. The leader of the cell ordered him to strip and give his clothes to the cell leader. On seeing him naked they all were terrified of this new prisoner because he was covered from neck to feet in tattoos that said he was of the most dangerous kind of person. Standing naked, he then preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to these men and they each converted. The upshot was that he was removed from cell to cell and then eventually thrown out of the prison because the authorities did not get the result they were expecting, him being beaten up. Just the opposite, he continued to preach the gospel no matter were he was.

    Yet today, particularly in the western countries, we see so called "christians" fighting one another instead of carrying out the mandate given - preach the gospel to all the world and make disciples in all nations.

    "And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.  Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

    Matt 28:18-20

     

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  6.  
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    OldMugwump (profile), Feb 14th, 2014 @ 4:30pm

    Whole lotta bleeding

    I don't get why this is on TechDirt either.

    And I've got no idea which side is right or wrong here.

    But Tim says:
    There's more to a court battle than losing assets. There's a whole lot of intermediate bleeding that can be done, especially if the plaintiff is in a better financial position.
    I don't see what Jones has to lose by fighting here. Assuming he represents himself, all he can lose is his time in court and his 7 chickens. If the justice system is just(*) and he's in the right, he'll win (despite having a fool for client & attorney). If he loses, he's out 7 chickens.

    Am I missing something?

    --

    (*) Honestly, my impression is that courts are not as bad as many claim - outside a few horrible areas discussed a lot here. Most judges seem to make a real effort to deliver justice, when the law and precedent allows them to.

     

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  7.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 15th, 2014 @ 2:17am

    Re: Whole lotta bleeding

    Because rulings in his case can be cited in other cases, and help shape laws.
    Someone can run around with this story about how horrible this was for (pick a side) and we need new laws to "fix" the problem what will be hamfisted and stupid and violate many peoples rights to make some others feel vindicated and that "something" was done.

    The internet is a great target for overreaching laws, and cases like this are the foundation for bad things happening.

    Did that clear it up?

     

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  8.  
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    Billy Jones, Feb 15th, 2014 @ 9:59am

    Are Your Facts Straight?

    I really appreciate your having linked to my story but sadly you appear to have confused 2 different Rocco Scarfone's in your reporting. That is unless you have access to records that aren't generally available online. Was Joseph Baffa adopted by Carmine Scarfone? Was that the reason for the name change?

    Even that doesn't quite fly as the author of HOUSE OF CARDS is RJ Scarfone but our guy is Rocco Carmine Scarfone according to the court documents.

    As to your opinion that "But wishing for a head-on courtroom collision is never a good idea..." Reality is this: The local city council and connected political elite here in Greensboro, North Carolina are terrified that this thing might actually go to court as Scarfone has his fingers in everyones' pockets.

    I'd say that's a good thing. Scarfone scares everyone in Greensboro-- myself included. Fear is good when it provokes you to do the right thing for the right reasons.

     

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  9.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Feb 16th, 2014 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re:

    ohh-h-h-k-a-a-a-y...
    i guess it is sunday...

    too bad you xtians don't have, like, some tax-free buildings ALL OF US PAY FOR, so you could all -i don't know- congregate, say, once a week, or something, to mangle your myths to your liking, or something...
    too bad...

     

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  10.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Feb 16th, 2014 @ 7:38am

    Re: Are Your Facts Straight?

    you go, boyeee!
    keep on speaking truth to glower ! ! !

    THANK YOU, for your true public service in *attempting* to maintain an 'informed electorate' against all odds...

    ps we can get you some chickens if they take yours...

     

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  11.  
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    The Old Man in The Sea, Feb 16th, 2014 @ 10:50pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Considering that we pay a local school to use their hall for our sunday service, I am still trying to decode your comments.

    Myths, umm, well where do we start. The Religion of Darwinian Evolution - the fundamental basis for Communism, National Socialism and other tyrannical government styles. The Religion of String Theory - the basis for myth of the multiverse - it exists, but we canna see it. The Religion of The Standard Model - explains nothing because by fiat they they state that things just are - here we have the magic incantation using the semi-empirical formula:

                                                2                  2
      BE                   b            cZ         d(N -Z)           e
    -------  =  a  -  ------  -  --------  -  ----------  +/-  ------
                            1/3         4/3            2             7/4
    A . MeV             A           A              A             A

    .

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    The Old Man in The Sea, Feb 16th, 2014 @ 11:05pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Considering that we pay a local school to use their hall for our sunday service, I am still trying to decode your comments.

    Myths, umm, well where do we start. The Religion of Darwinian Evolution - the fundamental basis for Communism, National Socialism and other tyrannical government styles. The Religion of String Theory - the basis for myth of the multiverse - it exists, but we canna see it. The Religion of The Standard Model - explains nothing because by fiat they they state that things just are - here we have the magic incantation to calculate the nuclear binding energies of nucleons by using the semi-empirical formula:

                                                2                  2
      BE                   b            cZ         d(N -Z)           e
    -------  =  a  -  ------  -  --------  -  ----------  +/-  ------
                               1/3         4/3            2             7/4
    A . MeV             A           A              A             A

    Wonderful formula - I've seen a couple of papers on a geometrical model that gives much closer results than the above semi-empirical formula (and these papers make no bones about only being models and are not actually describing reality).

    My engineering training always came back to the premise that we use models as a working tool to get things done. They are a simplification to allow us to achieve outcomes in the natural world. One has to be very careful that one does not make the mistake of believing the models are reality. You will come a cropper.

    I believe in a lot of things because experience shows me that they work. I am also sceptical of a lot of things because they want me to take what they say on faith and they have holes in them that you can drive a train through.

    The nice thing about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that though He asks me to trust Him, He has also demonstrated that He can be trusted, more than I can ever say about any other human authority, be they government, scientific or religious.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Feb 17th, 2014 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re: Whole lotta bleeding

    What TAC said. If this guy Jones loses, it may have implications for freedom of speech down the line. One little seedling looks like another; you have to let them grow a bit before you can work out what they are if you didn't plant them yourself.

    There's also a blogger-as-journalist thing going on*. Jones may have a personal beef with Scarfone. And damn it, we all enjoy watching the Prenda saga unfold, don't we? Well this may turn out to be yet another one of those things that improves the economy via popcorn sales.


    *Jones may think he's reporting the news in this case. Whether or not it's actually true appears to be up for debate.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Feb 17th, 2014 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re:

    Christian is as Christian does. I get fed up of people putting it on as a cloak of respectability, then using it to make money instead of making the world a better place by encouraging people to be kind to each other.

    Actually, I wonder if Scarfone got caught up in an IPR trap, i.e. he thought he "owned" his life story and that only he could tell it. If that's the case, he's little more than a performer putting on an act, and he sued Tom Papania for "stealing" his act the way Madonna called out Lady Gaga.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/madonna-flashes-breast-to-crowd-during-concert

    Which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence regarding the veracity of his conversion.

     

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  15.  
    icon
    BentFranklin (profile), Feb 18th, 2014 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: Re: Whole lotta bleeding

    Being a journalist doesn't shield you from libel law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    oh, so you know the dude ? ? ?
    ('cause jesu christ hisownself is telling you stuff, and apparently you are having -what?- conversations, prayer meetings, email, or tweets from the guy...)
    so, does he say when he's coming back for the big bash ? ? ?

    you know, i do appreciate the many homilies and aphorisms that xtians appropriated to write their god book, too bad most xtians don't live by them...
    (see, attributed to gandhi: Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.)

    in fact, i think it is probably fair to say that this agnostic/practicing atheist lives by the 'golden rule' and other (so-called) xtian moral strictures MORE consistently than actual xtians...
    funny, that... (but not very)

    oh, and just to clarify my barbarian rantings: the 'WE ALL PAY FOR' comment was shorthand for: ALL THE REST OF US pay taxes on our land and buildings; "religions" do not... therefore, ALL THE REST OF US (religious or not) ARE paying to make up for the taxes that religions are exempt from paying...
    (see, church, catholic, world's richest organization)
    see you in the afterlife...
    (or not)

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 11:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    " I get fed up of people putting it on as a cloak of respectability...."

    citation needed (re: xtians and respectability)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    jackn, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    why not start here

    jesus, etc....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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