(CN) – Father and son public school groundskeepers who share a surname, but no association, with an infamous crime family claim that a Westchester radio program defamed them as criminals to more than 5 million listeners.
In an eight-page complaint, Vincent James Bonanno and James Vincent Bonanno say that radio host Robert Cox “engaged in a calculated smear campaign” on broadcasts and web articles for Hudson-Westchester Radio’s “Talk of the Sound” program.
“Specifically, defendants engaged in a calculated smear campaign, purposefully misleading their audience into believing that plaintiff James Senior was a corrupt public employee who was misappropriating government resources, engaging in extortion and hiring known criminals,” the complaint states. “Defendants also accused plaintiff James Junior of making death threats. Defendants presented these false statements as facts and ‘investigative reports’ that they had independently confirmed and vetted.
“These statements exposed plaintiffs to hatred, humiliation, ridicule contempt, aversion and a public belief that they are of morally and ethically repugnant characters. The statements also disparaged plaintiff James Senior in the performance of his chosen profession by falsely accusing him of corruption, and unethical hiring practices.
“Plaintiffs are neither celebrities nor public figures. On the contrary, they are private citizens leading private lives as New Rochelle Department of Education groundskeepers. It was defendants who thrust plaintiffs into the public eye by way of their defamatory statements. Defendants’ publication of the false statements, in some instances together with plaintiffs’ names and photographs, was not journalism, but a malicious attempt to entice an audience and scandalize plaintiffs. “Plaintiffs’ reputations have been damaged and they now face an unsavory opinion in the minds of their friends, family, neighbors and professional communities.”
The first news story cited in the complaint was a June 23, 2011 web post titled “New Rochelle Schools Supervisor James Bonanno Misappropriates School District Employees on Work on Private Home in Orange County.”
According to the complaint, the story stated that “each day, workers from New Rochelle would make the hour plus drive up to Orange County while clocked in as working in New Rochelle. ‘Talk of the Sound’ will not publish the names of the employees in cases where they ordered [sic] to engage in illegal or unethical behavior their boss to keep the focus on the supervisors who are engaged in illegal or unethical conduct.”
A day later, defendant Cox allegedly defamed the Bonannos on a radio broadcast, in which he stated that “ground supervisor James Bonanno ordered three district employees to report to work at a house owned by his girlfriend in Upstate New York over a period of several days as part of an ongoing renovation of the property. This is a blatant misappropriation of city resources in New Rochelle school.
“The fact is that they’ve got… they’re using school district vehicles to do their little side jobs all over Westchester County, okay? …. These are facts, okay? Jimmy Bonanno… All of these guys… people who were stealing from the city. They’re stealing from the school district,” Cox reported, according to the complaint.
The complaint continues: “When asked whether he had ‘neglected to mention the auto parts extortion thing as well,’ defendant Cox stated, ‘no, that was Bonanno.’
“Defendant Cox also stated that plaintiff James Junior was spray painting death threats on the side of Jimmy’s boat.
“Defendant Cox then stated that ‘how you get to work under Jimmy, is that you have to show your bona fide [sic] somehow, and one good way to do it is you have a criminal record.”
The Bonannos say, “Each and all of the foregoing statements is false.”
According to the complaint, the feud escalated again on Oct. 16, 2011, when Cox wrote that the Bonannos had left him spray-painted death threats.
“On October 16, 2011, via his ‘Talk of the Sound’ website, defendant Cox published the statement: ‘Jimmy Bonanno, Jr. (Building & Grounds): Painted death threat against Robert Cox ‘Cox Sleeps with the Fishes’ on the side of a boat owned by his father at the Cliff Street Yard controlled by his father James Bonanno,” the complaint states.
Bonanno says he left no such threat.
On March 30, 2012, Cox allegedly told his online readers that Vincent “Jimmy” Bonanno had a “long list of corrupt practices.
On April 16, Cox allegedly claimed that James Senior had an Orange County property renovated on the taxpayer’s dime.
On April 17, Cox allegedly wrote that the Bonannos had been involved in “all manner of illegal activity.”
The Bonannos seek unspecified punitive damages for seven counts of defamation.
They are represented by Andrew Miltenberg and Marco Santori with Nesenoff & Miltenberg. An associate with the firm told Courthouse News in a phone interview that the clients had no relation to the Bonanno crime family.
Robert Cox, who said he was unaware that a lawsuit had been filed, declined comment.
Cox reported twice on his “Talk of the Sound” website that the Westchester district attorney dismissed two harassment complaints that the Bonannos filed against him.
Editor’s Note: The parties to this action signed a stipulation of discontinuance for all claims and counterclaims in 2014. Robert Cox, the radio host named as a defendant in 2012, says he dropped his counterclaim for a $2,000 settlement.