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NY Daily News Cleared for Political Corruption Story

MANHATTAN (CN) - A judge dismissed libel claims concerning a New York Daily News article on the bribery scandal that put state Sen. Carl Kruger behind bars.

In a March 2012 complaint, the Russian American Foundation and its founders, Marina Kovalyov and Rina Kirshner, said that the tabloid and two of its editors defamed them. They took issue with a July 24 headline that allegedly associated them with a bid-rigging scheme for New York City grants and contracts, as well as an article about Sen. Kruger, published in print and online on Oct. 2, 2011.

The October headline stated: "FBI documents show many payments to B'klyn pol's shell firms." It was paired with photographs of Kovalyov, above a caption that said she got "$50,000 in taxpayer grants from Kruger in 2007 & 2008."

Kruger was sentenced to seven years in April 2012 after pleading guilty to corruption charges.

The Oct. 2 article described Kruger as a "longtime Brooklyn Democrat who faces federal charges of exacting bribes to grant political favors." It said various conspirators made payoffs to "shell companies affiliated with Kruger."

Another statement in the article says: "Marina Kovalyov and her daughter, Rina Krishner, run the Russian American Arts Foundation, which got taxpayer money, and Firebird Productions, which made $199,000 in payments between 2006 and last year."

But Kovalyov and Kirshner insist that they did not pay bribes and that the FBI did no target them

They said the Daily News defamed them and tarnished their reputations, as well as their standing in the community, by implicating them in the bribery of a public official and involvement in an FBI investigation.

The article allegedly made it difficult for the foundation to raise funds or conduct business as normal, while tarnishing the group's relationship with elected officials.

Kovalyov and Kirshner also claimed that they faced discrimination for being Russian, They said the Daily News negligently hired Editor-in-Chief Kevin Convey, considering "his allegedly well known history of publishing false and defamatory matter in his prior employment at the Boston Herald," according to the opinion.

But New York County Supreme Court Judge Ellen Coin noted that the complaint provides no evidence of these alleged past offenses.

She dismissed the case with prejudice on Dec. 17, finding that Section 74 of Civil Rights Law gives the news media "an absolute privilege" from defamation claims concerning the "publication of a fair and true report."

The Daily News based its article and accusations on "allegations contained in an FBI affidavit submitted in support of a search warrant in Federal Court," Coin wrote.

"The FBI affidavit for a search warrant falls within the section 74 privilege as it is part of an application for a court order," the decision states.

Statements that the plaintiffs characterize as libelous "are substantially similar to those in the FBI affidavit and are thus protected," Coin found.

The plaintiffs also failed to tie the coverage to their Russian-American status, according to the ruling.

"Discriminatory animus does not affect or defeat the absolute privilege provided by section 74," Coin wrote.

Having dismissed the underlying tort causes of the action, Coin said that "the negligent hiring claims against Daily News must be dismissed as academic."

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