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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Character Assassination for Sport’

INDIO, Calif. (CN) - A businessman claims a bullying radio talk show host launched such a vicious smear campaign against him it brought death threats against him and forced his son to stay home from school.

Peter Paul Chryssikos Jr. sued Morris Communication Group dba Desert Radio Group, its afternoon talk show host Lee Rayburn, it general manager Jay White and its programming director John McMullen, in Riverside County Court.

Rayburn's show airs from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on the company's KNEWS station, FM 94.3.

Chryssikos, also known as Peter Chryss, seeks punitive damages for defamation, privacy invasion and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He claims Rayburn has launched a salvo of false accusations against him and his business since October, accusing him of a variety of criminal acts: "character assassination for sport without any consideration for the consequences to a private citizen who does not have to power or protection of the media at his disposal."

Chryssikos runs a home alarm installation company, Chryss Home Automation, according to reports in the Desert Star Weekly.

The Desert Star reported in October that a competing alarm company claims that Chryssikos "brokered the deal to install alarm systems in the homes of the city manager and a former city council member in anticipation of a city contract for downtown security cameras that was supposed to be worth a million dollars."

The articleadded: "The public documents in our possession confirm that Chryss Home Automation has not filed with the city a California contractor's license but is instead relying on the license of American Home Security, a company that Solar says Chryss no longer works for."

Those allegations about Chryssikos' relations with the city of Desert Hot Springs, and others made by Chryssikos' competitor, appear to be the basis for the controversy.

Desert Hot Springs is just north of Palm Springs.

Chryssikos claims: "Rayburn has engaged in a concerted, willful, deceptive and malicious crusade to smear and destroy the character and reputation of a private citizen as part of a larger campaign to discredit public officials of the City of Desert Hot Springs."

He claims that Rayburn has accused him of possessing child pornography, of credit card fraud and identity theft, of using corporate fronts to hide fraud, of domestic violence, being a deadbeat dad and making death threats to newspaper editors.

"At a time when educators, parents and public officials are struggling to prevent bullying and other abusive tactics which cause untold physical and emotional harm, Rayburn is the quintessential bully," the complaint states. "Abusing public air waves and the power of the media, Rayburn has invaded Chryssikos' privacy and abused, harassed, and humiliated him for entertainment purposes with no legitimate news or public purpose."

According to the complaint, Rayburn's false on-air comments included:

"Pete Chryss, according to Ray [Mattock, Chryssikos' former employer] and Debbie [Lewis, Chryssikos' former landlady, and Mattock's wife], brought an F.B.I. investigation to Ray's business, as they confiscated computers, according to Ray, as part of an investigation into the illegal downloading of what Ray claims ­- uh, the F.B.I. said was child pornography. Is this the guy you want running security for Desert Hot Springs?"

Chryssikos calls that allegation "the rhetorical equivalent of a nuclear bomb."

He says the accusation is false, and that he has never been the subject on any FBI investigation, "and particularly not child pornography."

He says Rayburn also falsely accused him of credit card fraud, and that "the credit card fraud cost [Ray's] business about $40,000, and really took his business to the brink, and, all of his employees with it. It turns out that Pete Chryss cost any number of Ray's employees and Debbie's employees their livelihood." (Brackets in complaint.)

He claims Rayburn falsely accused him of credit card theft, saying on the air: "That Chryssikos was operating - he was using his friend's name - that he was - it's identity theft ... credit card theft." (Punctuation as in complaint.)

He claims that Rayburn "falsely accused (him) of operating under several company names as part of a scheme to defraud the City of Desert Hot Springs," and that he "repeatedly made false, malicious and defamatory references to Chryssikos' use of multiple business entities to obtain money form the City of Desert Hot Springs. ... Rayburn also broadcast, 'Who is Peter Chryss? Over the past three years, Desert Hot Springs has paid over $40,000 or thereabouts for alarm systems and alarm monitoring to one business, which is operated under three separate names, according to the deputy city clerk of Desert Hot Springs, California.'"

Chryssikos says that allegation is false, and that one of the alarm companies to which Rayburn referred was owned by a third party.

He claims Rayburn said on the air: "I know where he's living. I know there's a warrant out for his arrest according to Riverside public access. I'm concerned for my safety personally. So, why don't you [Desert Hot Springs police] go pick him up?" (Brackets in complaint.)

Chryssikos says his children have suffered humiliation and ridicule at school and had to stay at home on some days. He claims he lost 90 percent of his business and has been asked to resign as a business booster for his children's school. And he claims he received death threats and threatening calls in the middle of the night as a result of Rayburn's attacks.

Chryssikos says he demanded a retraction from the defendants, and they refused.

He also claims they used his likeness to promote Rayburn's show.

"Rayburn's false and defamatory broadcasts accused Chryssikos of child pornography, being a con man, being an abuser of women, being a deadbeat dad, devising a fraudulent scheme to defraud Desert Hot Springs, and engaging in corruption and graft, among other criminal conduct," the complaint states. "Rayburn's accusations are defamatory on their face and were made with complete disregard for the truth or accuracy. Rayburn's actions are despicable and have caused cruel and unjust hardship to Chryssikos."

Chryssikos seeks punitive damages. He is represented by Shaun Murphey, with Slovak, Baron & Empey, of Palm Springs.

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