MIAMI (Legal Newsline) – In a Venezuelan community in the Miami area, a news outlet allegedly attempted to use its power in an attempt to extort millions of dollars from a wealthy businessman who claims a series of articles linking him to hated Venezuelan officials is ruining his reputation.
The Spanish-language Doral News is accused of printing false information about Gianfranco Rondon’s ties to political leaders in Venezuela and then offering to end its smear campaign of him in exchange for a $5 million payoff. Journalist Patricia Poleo is named as a co-defendant in Rondon's lawsuit, while Tulio Capriles, the president of the Venezuelan newspaper The Century, is also mentioned..
The accusations were made in two separate lawsuits involving Doral News and controlling member Gianfranco Napolitano. Rondon said the stories impacted his standing and reputation in Doral, which has the highest percentage of Venezuelans of any city in the United States.
Rondon, who exports American goods to Venezuela, was accused of acting as a bag man for, in his words, “a nefarious political actor in Venezuela” in a February Doral News story. This article ran a month after he was approached by Capriles with the news he could purchase Napolitano's share in Doral News for $5 million, Rondon claims.
The complaint calls Capriles and Napolitano business associates. Rondon says his refusal to pay the amount resulted in the series of articles.
A March article by Jonathan Leon claimed Rondon manages an immense fortune belonging to the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello Rondon.
Being attached to this person, who had reputation as a corrupt government official within the regime of the late Hugo Chavez, exposed him to hatred in the Venezuelan community in Doral, Rondon said.
“The Leon Defamatory Story concludes by stating falsely that Plaintiff was involved… in the commission of human rights violations and the death of 40 university students at the hands of Venezuelan authorities,” Rondon’s complaint said.
Rondon claims the news articles were part of a scheme to extort millions of dollars from him by ruining his reputation in Venezuela and Doral.
Poleo, Leon and Napolitano defended their reporting in a June court filing. Poleo said she interviewed numerous witnesses and received information from properly vetted sources during her investigation, which began when she was still in Venezuela.
Poleo left the country after a warrant was issued for her following the murder of high-profile prosecutor Danilo Anderson. Testimony from a man who claimed he was part of the planning of the assassination led to the warrant being issued.
The witness’ credibility, however, was later questioned.
After coming to Doral, Poleo continued to investigate Rondon. She says her claims are corroborated by pictures on Rondon’s Twitter account and web page that showed him with Venezuelan political actors.
“In one particular editorial, Plaintiff described Diosdado Cabello Rondon as a respected individual in Venezuelan community that he admires,” the defendants claimed.
Rondon’s allegations are repeated by another former Venezuelan in another lawsuit.
Napolitano allegedly approached the wife of the Doral News’ former owner to further his extortion scheme, then threatened him to keep quiet after she refused to help.
According to a counter-claim filed in a state court Aug. 22, Napolitano asked Andreina Campis, wife of Carlos Herradez, to contact Othniuska Cedeno -- “a prominent figure in the world of Latin media in south Florida” and a friend and associate of Rondon’s -- and tell her to advise Rondon that for $5 million he would stop his smear campaign.
“Otherwise he would continue slandering Rondon to prevent him from going back to Venezuela,” Herradez and Campis allege.
According to the couple’s claim, Napolitano offered Campis $1 million for her “assistance/cooperation.”
Herradez, who was at home at the time of Napolitano’s meeting with his wife and who overheard their conversation, claims that after Napolitano’s visit to their home he received a threatening text.
The text, from Napolitano, threatened him with “omerta” -- a reference to the mafia code of silence.
Herradez claims Napolitano stated in his text that those who violate omerta “face death.”
After the allegations first came to light in Rondon’s May lawsuit, Herradez was fired from his most recent position at Doral News, court records show.
He makes his claims against Napolitano in counter-claims in a lawsuit filed against him over the sale of the newspaper. He is accused of concealing a debt during the sale.
Herradez alleges that a written termination was sent to him June 15 -- the same day Doral Capital and Doral News filed their complaint against him and his wife -- from Napolitano, explaining he would no longer be a member in the LLC.
The lawsuit is still pending, though Rondon’s was recently dismissed because he could not meet the requirements of his racketeering claim.
In her Sept. 2 order, Judge Ursula Ungaro ordered Rondon to file a second amended complaint on or before Sept. 8. Ungaro cautioned Rondon that failure to file a new complaint by the deadline would result in the case’s dismissal.
A second amended complaint was never filed, so Ungaro issued an order on Sept. 9 dismissing the case. Julisse Jimenez of Miami law firm Vazquez & Carballo PA, who served as Rondon’s attorney, could not be reached for comment on whether her client planned to appeal or refile.
However, Herradez and Campis corroborated much of Rondon’s claims in their counter-claim, including their meeting with Napolitano.
“Herradez has taken these threats seriously, considers Napolitano to be ‘very dangerous’ and feels that his and his wife’s life are in danger,” the 22-page counter-claim in the state court case states.
Doral Capital, Doral News, Napolitano and the LLC have yet to file a response or “otherwise respond” to the couple’s counter-claim.
On Sept. 15, Herradez and Campis filed a motion for default with the state court.
A motion for default judgment in favor of a plaintiff most often is sought when a defendant has not responded to a summons or has failed to appear before a court of law.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.