NEWARK (CN) - TMZ, the New York Daily News and other media outlets face a federal action from a woman arrested in what they hyped as the "Super Bowl Prostitution Bust."
Janice Lee, who identifies herself in the complaint as a "sales account manager for an international seller of wigs and hair products," filed the 41-page action on Monday. Lee's "humiliated" parents, husband and son appear as plaintiffs as well.
Ridgefield, N.J.-based Lee credits her Korean-American background and other factors for her sterling moral character, saying she "never touched illegal drugs and has never engaged in prostitution or the operation of a prostitution ring."
Lee says this reputation went out the window on Jan. 30, 2014, when various media outlets reported the juicy details of a prostitution ring's takedown.
Before rushing to print, TMZ and the other news outlets should have fact-checked or investigated the "false story advanced by officials from the state and city of New York and state of New Jersey," according to the complaint.
"The false statements were statements of fact and not mere opinion or puffery," Lee says. "The statements told defendants' audience that Mrs. Lee is a whore; that she is a drug dealer; that she is part of a gang."
TMZ titled its article, "Super Bowl Prostitution Bust Was Asian Invasion," according to the complaint.
The Lees have already suffered enough, according to the complaint, which notes that "they lived through the experience of having their mother, wife, daughter taken in handcuffs or shackels (sic); locked up and treated like a convicted criminal for a substantial time; and humiliated among millions of readers and all of her community as a criminal; as a prostitute; as a gang member and as part of an organized criminal enterprise."
TMZ's article, as quoted in the complaint, mentions that wig shops were among the "phony businesses" that pimps used to funnel millions in "sex profits."
"All of the women nailed - in what NYPD calls Operation Shade of Beige - are Asian, and used Korean code words to mask the drug deal," TMZ wrote, according to the complaint. "One code name for coke - Soojaebi ... a Korean noodle and vegetable soup. Mmmm Mmmm bad."
In addition to saying that Lee belonged to "a small army of Asian hookers ... who take credit cards," TMZ also published her picture, the complaint alleges.
Lee's complaint uses separate subheadings to detail the similar articles other defendants like Daily News ran.
She claims that the New York tab included her name and referred to her in their article as an "arrested prostitute."
Screenshots of the splashy articles fill up Lee's 41-page complaint.
Lee says coverage of the bust by Tigerdroppings was particularly "vile and derogatory to Asian speaking persons."
In addition to using the phrase "me so horny" in its headline, Tigerdroppings "purported to compare plaintiff Janice Lee's photo to the Elephant Man's depiction," according to the complaint.
"Thus defendant went out of its way to smear plaintiff Janice Lee in a most vicious way," Lee continues.
A picture of her mug shot, followed by the smiling face of a person with facial deformaties, appear in the complaint.
Calling for an injunction, as well as punitive damages, Lee says the defendants should "collect and delete the defamatory postings, and replace them with clarification and retractions." She is represented by Michael Kimm of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
TMZ and the Daily News have not returned requests for comment.
Courthouse News is also awaiting comment from Lee's attorney.
Other media defendants include Showbiz News, The Korea Times, Uptown Magazine, RollingOut, Dirty Sports, Your Daily Media, All Things Crime and Tiger Droppings. Eight individuals who allegedly wrote the articles for their respective news sources are also named as defendants.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.