PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The Knights of Malta may have laid down their arms centuries ago, but they're waging a new battle in federal court.
In an Oct. 27 complaint, the nearly 1,000-year-old group, officially known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, claims that imposters have been brandishing the Knights of Malta name and its signature cross to solicit money from donors.
The Knights of Malta carried out various military missions throughout its history, but it was founded to administer a hospital to sick Christians in Jerusalem. It still conducts charitable missions throughout the world, including the United States.
"From time to time, persons and entities with no affiliation with plaintiff attempt to trade on the Order's name and service marks to solicit funds through fraud," the complaint says.
The misrepresentation alleged here comes from a group called the North American Foundation of the Ecumenical Hospitaller Order of St. John Knights of Malta.
This foundation's leader, Petros Iossif, is a Greek citizen who has misrepresenting himself as "a knight of Malta and a grand master of Knights of Malta," according to the complaint.
The imposter goes by Prince Peter Iossif de Lemessos, the Knights claim.
Though Iossif lives in Rome, Italy, he solicits donations in Pennsylvania, where his foundation runs out of Chadds Ford, according to the complaint.
The Knights paired their complaint with exhibits from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, showing that they registered their name and cross as service marks in 2003.
In a section of the complaint about Knights of Malta history, the group notes that it disarmed in 1798, after Napoleon drove them off the eponymous island they settled while fleeing Rhodes in 1523.
Since then, they have maintained a low profile as a charity and have become the subject of various conspiracy theories, such as those recently levied by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who claimed that members had infiltrated the upper echelons of the U.S. military.
The Knights claim violations of the Lanham Act and common-law unfair competition. They are represented by Frank Orban III, a solo-practice attorney in Lancaster.