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Vets’ Group Says Mother Jones Defamed It

MARTINEZ, Calif. (CN) - The Veterans Benefits Group, its president, and an investment adviser say Mother Jones Magazine defamed them in its July-August issue, in an article that ran under the headline: "War and Fleece: Shady Financial Planners and Insurance Brokers Have Found a Rich Target in America's Aging Vets."

Charles Enea and John Enea say the article falsely accuses them of elder financial abuse, fraud and other "shady practices." Charles Enea is a registered investment adviser, and John Enea is a licensed insurance broker and president of the Veterans Benefits Group, according to their complaint in Contra Costa County Court.

They sued Mother Jones Magazine, the article's author Andy Kroll, and photographer Lianne Milton. They also sued KGO Television and KGO anchor Michael Finney for running a segment that made similar accusations.

According to the complaint, Mother Jones and Kroll "charge that plaintiffs Charles Enea and Veterans Benefits Group Inc. committed the crimes of elder financial abuse, fraud, and illegally charging for helping veterans apply for the 'aid and attendance' benefit paid by the Federal Government's Veterans Administration, which benefit assists certain veterans to pay for in-home care or residence at an assisted living facility."

The Eneas say the Mother Jones article called them "shady", "vampires" and "fraudulent", among other epithets.

The article does not mention John Enea explicitly, but the Eneas say the false statements defamed him as president of Veterans' Benefits Group.

They say that the article, published both in print and on the magazine's website, falsely accused Charles Enea of charging Willard Smith, a World War II veteran, exorbitant fees for services he was entitled to receive for free, and of perpetrating a "bait and switch" fraud to bleed money from veterans' pensions funds.

Smith and his attorney Kathryn Stebner are also named as defendants.

The complaint states: "The Mother Jones articles were false as to plaintiffs, in that, among other things, the articles assert:

"A. That plaintiff Charles Enea illegally and improperly provided services to defendant Smith. In fact, plaintiff solely performed legitimate and ethical services for defendant Smith.

"B. That plaintiff Charles Enea was not legally entitled to charge defendant Smith for the services he performed, and that it was a violation of law to do so. In fact, plaintiff was entitled by law and by contract to charge defendant Smith the fees which he charged for the services he performed.

"C. That the fees charged by plaintiff Charles Enea to defendant Smith were unethical, illegal, unreasonable, exorbitant, and intended to 'fleece' defendant Smith. In fact, all such fees charged were fair, equitable and reasonable fees for the services performed, and there was no attempt to 'fleece' defendant Smith in any fashion.

"D. That plaintiffs intended to improperly 'bleed money' from America's pension programs. At no time did plaintiffs intend to or actually receive any funds from any pension program referred to in the articles.

"E. That plaintiffs are 'vampires.' Plaintiffs are not 'vampires,' in any sense.

"F. That plaintiffs undertook a 'bait and switch' fraud. Plaintiffs have never undertaken any form of 'bait and switch.' ..."

The Eneas say Kroll's article unfairly accused them of defrauding veterans by recommending "financially devastating" transactions, and of engaging in elder abuse, fraud and other shady practices.

In fact, the Eneas say, "plaintiff Charles Enea's fees were disclosed to and agreed to by defendant Smith in writing, and the services performed were in fact financially beneficial to defendant Smith."

The plaintiffs claim the "defendants failed to attempt to contact or interview any of the plaintiffs for comment about the assertions about plaintiffs made in the articles, even though defendants did contact other persons or companies identified in the articles for comment and give them the opportunity to respond."

They add: "Defendants relied exclusively on sources which defendants knew or should have known were hostile and biased against plaintiffs, because the sources have a legal and financial interest in fabricating claims about plaintiffs. As a result, defendants had a high degree of awareness of the probable falsity of the articles as to plaintiffs, yet proceeded to publish them anyway."

The plaintiffs sued KGO TV for its Feb. 15 story, "Veterans duped into paying for service offered for free," which allegedly made similar statements. The story accused Charles Enea of charging Smith $250 per hour for services veterans should receive for free, after misrepresenting to Smith that his rate was $2.50 an hour, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say those statements are false, and that "the services provided by plaintiff Charles Enea are not available for free elsewhere."

The Eneas say both Mother Jones and KGO used Smith and his attorney as their only, unverified source for the defamatory stories.

They claim that Smith and Stebner "knew or believed, at the time they made the false, defamatory statements to the media defendants, that their statements would be broadcast, published and disseminated by said media defendants, to the injury of plaintiffs, and each of them."

And they say that Mother Jones and KGO refused to print retractions and remove their publications from the Internet.

They seek punitive damages for libel and slander.

They are represented by Gerald Filice of Sacramento.

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