Debt Expert Claims Cabal Smeared Him
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CN) - A consumer debt specialist claims in court that a former business partner defamed him by spreading a false story that he had sexually molested a teenage girl in the Philippines.
Robert Manning sued Sevan Aslanyan, Aslanyan's companies Access Counseling, Cole Asia Business Center and Cole Group, and five alleged associates of Aslanyan, in Federal Court.
Manning, an award-winning author and lecturer specialized in consumer finance and deregulation of retail banking, is president of DebtorWise Foundation, a nonprofit that provides debtor education for bankruptcy applicants. His research on consumer debt issues has influenced public policy debate on the regulation of retail banking and consumer debt in the United States and other countries.
Manning had been a consultant for the government and private investment companies, an expert witness in class-action lawsuits against the credit card industry, and has testified before congressional committees several times, according to his complaint.
Manning claims his years of research and advocacy for the average American consumer prompted Congress to enact important protections in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2010.
After Manning's book, "Credit Card Nation: America's Dangerous Addiction to Credit," attracted national attention, he was featured in a 2007 documentary, "In Debt We Trust," which was screened at a theater in Los Angeles, according to the complaint.
The man who hosted the screening introduced Manning to Aslanyan, a Southern California businessman who claimed to be interested in the consumer debt settlement and consumer debt relief industry, according to the lawsuit.
Manning says he agreed to write an academic research paper on consumer debt trends, and delivered it to Aslanyan.
Soon after that, Manning claims, his relationship with Aslanyan turned sour, and Aslanyan and his affiliates began a smear campaign to damage his reputation and his other business relationships.
Manning's relationship with Aslanyan led to four lawsuits in California and cost Manning hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to his lawsuit.
The complaint does not go into details about what went wrong between the two businessmen.
"Beginning in November of 2012, and continuing through until the present day, the Aslanyan defendants, collectively and individually, and Does 1-50, inclusive, have repeatedly, maliciously and oppressively published, via verbal communications with third parties, letters to government authorities, officials and representatives, letters to corporate executives, electronic mail directed at third parties, and online public media, and elsewhere, false, shocking, outrageous, grave, highly inflammatory, and extremely damaging publications that Dr. Manning had sexually molested a teenage girl in the Philippines," the complaint states. "The Aslanyan defendants, collectively and individually, and Does 1-50, inclusive, knowingly, willfully, and connivingly designed this smear campaign to inflict as much devastating and irreparable damage upon Dr. Manning and his reputation as possible, in as short of a period of time as possible, while also seeking to 'shame' members of the United States Congress, executives at the United States Department of Justice, corporate executives, industry leaders and professionals, and other authorities and academic institutions into shunning Dr. Manning and ceasing all of their business dealings with him."
Manning claims Aslanyan fabricated a police report with the help of a co-conspirator in the Philippines, defendant Jennie Alcantara, and sent it to government officials, corporate executives and other people in the U.S. consumer debt industry.
"Upon information and belief, Mr. Aslanyan himself, knowingly and willfully, falsely corroborated the contents of the fictitious, false and falsified police report to countless third parties, including, but not limited to, corporate executives in the consumer debt industry, falsely telling a glorified story to anyone who would listen, of him having to 'race' Dr. Manning to the international airport in the Philippines to assist Dr. Manning in avoiding imminent arrest by the authorities in that country," the complaint states.
Manning claims that Aslanyan has continued to spread the false story, and threatened to hold a press conference in Los Angeles with Filipino nationals who allegedly participated in the purported incident or had direct knowledge of it.
He claims Aslanyan designed the smear campaign to force Manning to reinstate his business relationship with him and his companies, and to end other lucrative relationships.
Manning says Aslanyan and his co-conspirators conducted a "highly organized operation to intentionally destroy his well-earned national reputation" by sharing their fabricated story with bloggers, consumer debt industry consultants and executives, bankruptcy trustees, computer programmers and with Manning's business partners and employees.
Manning claims his reputation and business suffered irreparable injury.
He says he lost more than $750,000 in income from consulting work and other projects.
Under the influence of Aslanyan's false claims, the vice president of CreditWise tried to persuade the company's board to remove Manning as president, according to the lawsuit.
Manning says Aslanyan never contacted him before publicizing the grotesque tale about him, and denied him the opportunity to rebut it.
He claims Aslanyan refused to retract the false statements or apologize.
Manning seeks compensatory and punitive damages for civil conspiracy, defamation, tortious interference with business relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is represented by Moataz Hamza of San Diego and Anita Butera of the Adair Law Firm in Rochester.
Contact information for Aslanyan and the Cole defendants was not available.
Access Counseling did not immediately reply to a request for comment.