LAKE WORTH, Fla. (CN) – The former mayor of Lake Worth claims the Palm Beach Post defamed him in an article that implied he was ousted from his job at the Chamber of Commerce for pocketing money from special events. Even the city commissioner who called for his resignation never made such an allegation, Tom Ramiccio says.
Ramiccio, the former mayor and 8-year veteran of Lake Worth’s Chamber of Commerce, says Post reporter Kevin Thompson used inaccurate, libelous language in a Dec. 17, 2009 article about his termination as the Chamber CEO.
Ramiccio says the Post reported that he was fired amid City Commissioner Suzanne Mulvehill’s criticisms about his commissions for city-sponsored events.
In a letter to the city calling for Ramiccio’s resignation, Mulvehill wrote that she was acting in response to “the public outcry for his removal, and the public’s lack of confidence in his ability to lead the organization.”
In the letter, Mulvehill criticized an arrangement under which Ramiccio took a 17 percent commission on special event revenue. But Ramiccio says she never claimed, as Thompson’s article suggests, that he had “pocketed cash” from the events.
He says the Post published a clarification acknowledging the discrepancy.
Ramiccio’s attorney, William Johnson, told Courthouse News Service that the Post took “close to four months” to publish the clarification.
Johnson said that Mulvehill was concerned about the commission contract, but that she never alleged that Ramiccio stole money or pocketed cash. Thompson’s description of Mulvehill’s letter to the city was a far stretch of the truth, Johnson said.
“The statements were made in complete disregard of their obviously harmful effect on the plaintiff’s reputation and good standing in the community,” according to the complaint in Palm Beach County Court.
After Ramiccio lost his job, Mulvehill reiterated her criticisms in a Jan. 8 Post article, in which she allegedly told the paper that local businesses had the impression that Ramiccio was creating incentives for them to join the Chamber and taking a commission on their membership fees.
The Jan. 8 interview rehashes Mulvehill’s concerns from her original letter to the city: that Ramiccio had been expediting permits for Chamber members and creating unnecessary permitting hindrances for nonmembers.
According to a ruling by the Florida Commission on Ethics, Ramiccio was fined $2,000 in 2000 for violating ethics statutes in an unrelated case. That ruling stems from an ethics complaint from a local florist, Carol Dippel, who had been selling flowers to the city during an annual street-painting festival. After finding out that Dippel was displaying the campaign sign of his political opponent, then-Mayor Ramiccio allegedly suggested to Dippel that he would prevent her from doing business with the city.