Chicago Sun-Times Accused of Defamation

     CHICAGO (CN) – A former city engineer claims in court that he lost his job after the Chicago Sun-Times defamed him in a story that the Tribune got right.
     Mohammed Rashed sued Sun-Times Media and Sun-Times reporters Frank Main and Fran Spielman, in Cook County Court.
     The claims the newspaper falsely reported on July 20 that he had been charged with defrauding Medicare of $1.5 million, and that numerous online readers posted comments that made him fear for his life.
     According to his complaint, Rashed worked for Chicago for 18 years, ending up as chief engineer of electrical operations for the Department of Transportation.
     “Prior to July 20, 2011, Rashed had become a passive investor in a company called House Call Physicians,” the complaint states. “Rashed was not involved in the day-to-day activities of the business, and had no training or experience in the health care industry.”
     Then, he says, “On July 20, 2011, the Sun-Times published an online article written by defendants Main and Spielman which bore the headline ‘Chicago City official arrested and charged with Medicare fraud scheme. …
     “The article included a picture of Rashed, next to which appeared the following text: ‘Two owners of a Palos Hills home health care business and a suspended podiatrist were hit Wednesday with federal Medicare fraud charges that accuse them of having illegally taken more than $1.5 million in fraudulent Medicare payments. One of the owners of the business, House Call Physicians, is Mohammed Khamis Rashed.'”
     The article “included the following statements,” the complaint states: “‘A high-level City Hall official was arrested at work Wednesday on charges he was involved in Medicare fraud. …
     “‘Mohammed K. Rashed, 45, of Chicago, is one of three men charged in an alleged scheme involving a home health care business Rashed owned with one of the other co-defendants, Bahir K. Khalil. …
     “‘Rashed and Khalil … are accused of Medicare fraud of more than $1.5 million and of an illegal attempt to obtain a work visa for Khalid, according to a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday.'” (Ellipses in complaint. Final spelling of “Khalid” as in complaint.)
     Rashed claims he “was not charged with Medicare fraud. Khalil and [Paschal U.] Oparah were the lone defendants charged in the Medicare scheme,” according to the complaint.
     “At no time was Rashed a public figure,” he adds.
     “Rashed had no involvement whatsoever in their alleged Medicare scheme, was not charged with any crime relating to their alleged scheme, and no relief was sought against him with respect to their alleged scheme,” the complaint states.
     “The only crime that Rashed was charged with was signing the Employment and Training Administration form prepared by House Call Physician’s attorney in connection with the attorney’s effort to obtain a work visa for Khalil.
     “Rashed relied upon House Call Physician’s attorney’s expertise, and signed the form he was tendered.”
     He adds: “The nature of the actual charges brought against Rashed were accurately reported by the Chicago Tribune on July 21, 2011.”
     Rashed says that Sun-Times readers “clearly understood the article to state that Rashed was involved in the Medicare fraud scheme resulting in the theft of $1,500,000.00 in taxpayer funds.”
     The complaint continues: “Among the dozens of comments relating to the article the Sun Times published online on July 20, 2011 were the following:
     “Throw this bum in jail and deport the Syrian, after his jail sentence and make them pay back every penny stolen. …
     “Its what a person like him does. And he’d like to take over the world with his like minded co-horts. …
     “Follow the money, perhaps it is being funneled to terrorists! …
     “I would guess that the city auditor should look into the contracts that this engineer has been negotiating for the benefit of the city. If he is involved in fraud with medicare, then there is no reason to expect him to be a clean city employee.
     “Just to be extra safe, lets deport anyone named Muhammed or Khilid, immediately. Illegals, billing for work not done, doing another job while being on the clock with another employer … Greed and apathy at it’s peak! Make him feel right at home and stone him to death … televise it, of course …” [Spelling and grammar, but not ellipses, in complaint.]
     Rashed claims that “as a proximate result of the defendants’ defamatory statements, plaintiff suffered a loss of standing in the community, personal humiliation and mental anguish. Combined with his ethnicity and the fact that, as an employee of the City of Chicago, it was well-known that he lived in the city, the article caused plaintiff to fear for his life and the lives of his wife and children. Plaintiff was unable to eat and sleep, lost his job, and was unable to secure new employment. …
     “Even after plaintiff contacted the defendants to notify the defendants their erroneous reporting, defendants never issued a formal retraction or correction.”
     Rashed seeks damages for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy.
     He is represented by Daniel Hogan, with McCabe & Hogan.

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