Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Court Tosses Libel Claim Against N.Y. Reporter

(CN)- A New York newspaper reporter did not libel a businessman by reporting that he had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, a New York appeals court ruled.

Michael Cholowsky accused reporter Denise Civiletti of libeling him in her articles for Times/Review Newspaper Corp.

According to the publications, a man named Joseph Provenzano used Cholowsky's hauling permit to dump hazardous waste in the Brookhaven landfill.

Civiletti also reported that Cholowsky said he paid $20,000 in bribes to Republican Party leader John Powell for the right to dump at the landfill in Yaphank.

The articles led to the revocation of Cholowsky's permit to operate a solid waste facility, because he had stated on his application that he had never been convicted of a crime involving bribery, fraud or an offense against public administration.

Court documents reveal that Cholowsky admitted to having let other truckers enter the Brookhaven landfill using his permit, the ruling states. He also acknowledged paying Powell $2,000 a month for 10 months, according to the ruling.

Cholowsky pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to make corrupt payments, a class D felony," and was sentenced to a year of probation. Under the terms of his plea bargain, no criminal charges were brought against him for his participation in tax fraud.

The 2nd Department Appellate Division in Brooklyn upheld the lower court's ruling for the reporter. Though the scheme did not involve defrauding the United States, as Civiletti reported, the articles are protected by the fair report privilege, the court ruled.

"[T]here was no requirement that the publication report the plaintiff's side of the controversy," Justice Cheryl Chambers wrote. "Since the publications did not produce a different effect than would a report containing the precise truth, they satisfied the requirements of Civil Rights Law § 74, and were absolutely privileged."

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