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
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.