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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Baltimore City Paper Faces Defamation Suits

BALTIMORE (CN) - A strip club owner and two longshoremen claim the Baltimore City Paper defamed them in an article that falsely linked them to a violent drug organization and called them drug dealers and leaders of organized crime.

Rosalie Jackson, her son Kenneth Jackson, and Riker McKenzie filed separate complaints against the Baltimore City Paper and its reporter Van Smith in City Court. Rosalie Jackson's complaint includes her business, Eldorado Lounge, as a plaintiff.

Rosalie Jackson, who has owned the Eldorado Lounge since 1978, runs the club with the help of her son, Kenneth, a member of the International Longshoremen's Association, Local 333, according to their complaints.

The Jacksons say Smith wrote and the City Paper published a story "containing false and defamatory statements about the plaintiffs," which linked them to organized crime and hurt their reputations and business.

In his complaint, former longshoremen's local union president Riker "Rocky" McKenzie claims the same article labeled him a criminal and linked him to an alleged Baltimore drug dealer.

The Jacksons say: "On Nov. 24, 2010, defendants wrote and published a story in the Baltimore City Paper containing false and defamatory statements about the plaintiffs, linking [Rosalie] Jackson to organized crime and defaming the character of the Eldorado as a legitimate business entity."

Kenneth Jackson says the article suggested "that he was a leader in Baltimore crime, associating him with a violent drug organization, and associating him with an alleged Baltimore drug dealer."

The November 2010 article by Van Smith purports to expose criminal conduct among members of the local longshoremen's union.

Jackson adds: "Specifically, in the Nov. 24, 2010 online version of the Baltimore City Paper ... defendants wrote and published the following false and defamatory statements about plaintiff:

"i. Jackson is 'an iconic Baltimore underworld figure.'

"ii. 'Jackson is still a lightning rod for criminal and political intrigue. In the mid-2000s, a federal prosecution of a politically connected violent drug gang, the Rice Organization, targeted a man who helped run the criminal enterprise while also operating a restaurant in a Jackson owned building on Howard Street's Antique Row.'

"iii. 'Tillman's reputation as a drug world figure was exploited in a federal courtroom in 2002, when since deceased Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna, while prosecuting the case involving the 2000 shooting of Tillman's son, called him "one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history." Tillman and Jackson are arguably two of the most enduring names in modern annals of Baltimore crime.'"

Jackson says the statements are false, that he is not involved in criminal activities and "has never been charged or convicted of any crime that would suggest that he is or ever was a drug leader or drug figure in Baltimore city or any other city or state."

His complaint adds: "While plaintiff has been convicted of gun possession, misdemeanor theft, possession of drugs, and manslaughter, these convictions occurred over 20 years ago in 1981 and 1987. Additionally, Jackson has served his time for the above mentioned crimes and is now a productive member of society, holding two jobs in legitimate businesses."

Jackson's mother claims the article, which hurt the reputation of her business, linked her club to plaintiff McKenzie and to Baltimore dockworker and union member Michael Thames, whom Smith alleged were involved in drug-related criminal activities.

Rosalie Jackson says the false statements included: "'[Thames] knows McKenzie's bid for president included a Nov. 15 fundraiser at the Eldorado, a strip club in East Baltimore co-owned by Kenneth Antonio "Kenny Bird" Jackson, an iconic Baltimore underworld figure - and a fellow member of Local 333.'"

She says Smith's article falsely claimed that her son Kenneth was a co-owner of the club.

(The City Paper issued a correction, stating that Kenneth Jackson is not an owner of the Eldorado Lounge.)

McKenzie claims the article contained "false and defamatory statements about plaintiff, referring to plaintiff as a criminal as well as associating plaintiff with an alleged Baltimore drug dealer and other criminals."

According to McKenzie's complaint, "defendants wrote and published the following false and defamatory statements about plaintiff:

"i. 'In his appeal he contended he received probation before judgment in the heroin case rather than a guilty finding.'

"ii. 'Thames' circumstances - along with convicted criminals Tillman and Jackson being Local 333 members and union [president] McKenzie's hazy criminal charge - beg questions. Does Local 333 draw people with criminal pasts or presents?' In the preceding paragraph, Smith discusses Thames' criminal charges. Four paragraphs up Smith writes that 'Tillman and Jackson are arguably two of the most enduring names in modern annals of Baltimore crime.' Five paragraphs up Smith quotes a district attorney that stated Tillman was 'one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history.' On the previous page, Smith states that Jackson is an 'iconic Baltimore underworld figure.'

"iii. 'In addition to McKenzie, Jackson, and Tillman, Thames says he knows about the federal fraud convictions in September of three port timekeepers for covering.'"

McKenzie says the statements are false, that he is not a criminal, that he "did not receive probation before judgment as a result of a heroin dealing conviction" and that there is "no evidence that plaintiff was ever convicted of dealing heroin."

The plaintiffs add: "At no point prior to the publication of the article did any representatives of the Baltimore City Paper or Van Smith attempt to contact plaintiff[s] regarding the validity of the above-listed statements."

They say Smith's article, which is available to hundreds of thousands of readers, damaged their personal and business reputation, compromised their safety and caused them emotional distress.

According to the complaints, the City Paper has more than 300,000 readers a week and its online version averages 1.75 million page views per month.

The plaintiffs each seek more than $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages for libel, invasion of privacy and unreasonable publicity.

They are represented by Paul Gardner II and J. Wyndal Gordon.

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