MANHATTAN (CN) – CBS News defamed a Times Square-based strip club as a mob-tied company at the “center of a global scheme to bring women into the U.S. and force them into exotic dancing,” the club claims in New York County Supreme Court.
Three Amigos SJL Rest. Inc. dba The Cheetah Club and affiliates sued CBS News and four reporters, alleging “defamation per se and injurious falsehood in connection with news broadcasts and Internet articles published on or about November 30, 2011.”
On that day, plaintiff “Three Amigos and its associates entities and subtenants as described above invested over $3 million into the purchase and operation of Cheetah’s,” according to the complaint.
(Other plaintiffs include subtenant Times Square Restaurant No. 1, its president Dominica O’Neill and manager Shawn Callahan; and Times Square Restaurant Group and its manager Philip Stein.)
Also that day, defendant CBS anchorwoman Mary Calvi reported around noon, “Federal authorities are raiding a midtown strip-club, saying it’s at the center of a global scheme to bring women into the U.S. and force them into exotic dancing,” according to the complaint.
Later in the segment, defendant reporter Kathryn Brown elaborated: “‘[S]ources tell CBS 2 News this bust is being dubbed “Operation Dancing Brides,” and this strip club here, “Cheetah’s” in midtown, they say, is the center of the operation. Cheetah’s advertises exotic dancers and the federals, uh, federal authorities say it is run by the Mafia. They have been here, feds have been here all morning. They conducted a morning raid and they’ve been here for hours inside collecting evidence. They are still inside right now. Meantime, earlier this morning, agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 25 men described as “ringleaders” of the operation. Many of them they say are members of the Gambino [crime family],'” the complaint states, apparently citing a transcript of the broadcast. (Brackets in complaint.)
In the same broadcast, Brown reported this, while Cheetah’s was depicted behind here, according to the complaint: “‘Federal authorities carried out boxes of evidence from this midtown strip club during an early morning raid. They say the club, Cheetah’s, is one of several at the heart of an underground immigration ring that stretches from Times Square to the heart of Russia. Investigators say Russian and Italian mobsters were working together in the elaborate scheme to buy Russian and European women to the U.S. [sic] and then funnel them to strip clubs to work as exotic dancers.'”
A video clip of Sonia Ossorio, the National Organization of Women’s executive director for the New York City area, was then broadcast, Ossorio saying: “‘They come here, they don’t speak the language, they don’t have a network of anyone. They’re surrounded by very scary intimidating thugs,'” according to the complaint.
Ossorio is not a party to the complaint.
Defendant CBS correspondent Maurice DuBois reported at 5 p.m. the same day: “‘Federal authorities say they busted a global underground immigration ring and at the center of the ring is a strip, a set of strip clubs across Manhattan,” according to the complaint.
Cheetah’s claims all these statements are defamatory.
“Not one individual employed by Cheetah’s, Times Square No. 1, Times Square Group or Three Amigos, was arrested in connection with the ‘Operation Dancing Brides’ investigation,” the complaint states.
“Not one individual defendant named in the ‘Operation Dancing Brides’ indictment is associated with or employed by Cheetah’s, Times Square No. 1, Times Square Group or Three Amigos. …
“The United States Attorney’s Office has confirmed that Cheetah’s was in no way a target of the ‘Operation Dancing Brides’ investigation.
“Federal authorities have confirmed that Cheetah’s was not suspected of being connected with organized crime.
“Calvi’s statement that Cheetah’s ‘is at the center of a global scheme to bring women into the U.S. and force them into exotic dancing’ is entirely, complete and unfairly false …
“Brown’s statement that Cheetah’s is ‘run by the Mafia’ is entirely, completely and utterly false.”
Three Amigos claims Operation Dancing Brides prosecution targeted strips clubs in Queens and Long Island, but none in Manhattan.
It claims the news reports tarnished its reputation by exposing it to “public contempt, ridicule, aversion, disgrace and/or … an evil opinion of plaintiffs in the minds of right-thinking persons.”
The broadcast was also posted on the Internet under the headline, “Feds Raid Midtown Club ‘Cheetah’s’, Break Up Global Stripper Smuggling Scheme,” according to the complaint.
“As a result of the knowingly false, malicious and misleading statements and broadcasts made by defendants, plaintiffs are now viewed as, or being involved in, ‘human trafficking,'” the complaint states.
They seek $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented by Amy L. Bellantoni.