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Planned Parenthood Strikes Back at Foes With RICO Suit

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Planned Parenthood filed a racketeering lawsuit against the Center for Medical Progress Thursday afternoon, claiming the conservative group's purported undercover videos have cost the women's health organization millions.

In a federal complaint filed in California's Northern District, Planned Parenthood claims several "anti-abortion extremists" tied to the Center for Medical Progress set up a fake fetal-tissue procurement company called BioMax to infiltrate Planned Parenthood conferences and secretly record doctors affiliated with Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

The activists then turned those recordings into a series of smear videos, which Planned Parenthood claims were "heavily manipulated, with critical content deliberately deleted, and disconnected portions sewn together to create a misleading impression."

In a statement, Kathy Kneer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said Planned Parenthood is "going on the offensive" with its sweeping, 65-page complaint detailing the center's fraudulent actions.

"Center for Medical Progress' reckless and dangerous actions have created a poisonous environment that fuels political attacks on access to reproductive health care and feeds threats against our health centers," Kneer said. "We're going on the offensive to expose this fraud for what it is and hold the people behind it accountable - in order to prevent further harassment of our patients and staff and protect access to the preventive and reproductive health care Planned Parenthood provides to millions of people each year."

The lawsuit says in November 2013, two center members - defendant Susan Merritt and another woman identified as Brianna Allen - posed as representatives of BioMax and requested exhibitor space at the National Abortion Foundation's April 2014 conference in San Francisco. The request was granted, and Merritt, who called herself Susan Tennenbaum, Allen, and Center for Medical Progress CEO and defendant David Daleiden, posing as "Dr. Robert Sarkis, Vice President of BioMax Operations," began targeting certain Planned Parenthood doctors to bait them with proposals to buy fetal tissue.

In one instance, the complaint says, Daleiden asked a Planned Parenthood staffer, "Can we give you $2,000 for fetal tissue donations?"

Having met Daleiden and Merritt at the conference, Dr. Debora Nucatola met them at a restaurant in July 2014 "to discuss their 'tissue procurement company,'" believing the meeting to be confidential. She would never have agreed to meet with or speak with defendants if she had known who they were," the lawsuit says.

On July 2015, the center posted a video using clips from that recorded meeting. Planned Parenthood says the video was deceptively edited to portray Nucatola as trying to profit from the sale of fetal tissue.

"Ten times during the conversation, Dr. Nucatola said Planned Parenthood would not sell tissue or profit in any way from tissue donations," the lawsuit says. 'All 10 instances were cut out of the video released by defendants."

Because of the connections they made through National Abortion Foundation, the defendants were able to pose as exhibitors at various Planned Parenthood Conferences from 2014 through 2015 using phony driver's licenses and fake brochures and business cards advertising BioMax's services.

Each time, the defendants signed the nondisclosure agreements required of conference exhibitors which prohibit video and audio recordings.

Planned Parenthood says the edited Nucatola video and several others the center released have led to heightened incidents of vandalism and harassment at Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation, with a five-fold increase in the number of security incidents in California alone. Nucatola and other targeted doctors have received death threats, and Planned Parenthood has spent thousands of hours fighting website hacks and responding to congressional investigations triggered by the center's videos.

Planned Parenthood seeks restitution for actual losses as well as unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

In a statement, the Center for Medical Progress dismissed the lawsuit as both "frivolous" and "retaliation for CMP's First Amendment investigative journalism."

Planned Parenthood is represented by Amy Bomse of Arnold & Porter in San Francisco, Beth Parker of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Calif. in Sacramento, California, and Helene Kransnoff of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in Washington.

"Daleiden and his co-conspirators' goal in releasing these grossly misleading videos was to disrupt Planned Parenthood's operations to prevent millions of women and men from getting the care we provide," Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. "But their ultimate goal is to make all abortion illegal and they will stop at nothing - including breaking the law and lying - to pursue their misguided and deeply unpopular agenda."

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