The Miami Lakes dentist leading the recall effort against Mayor Michael "Muscles" Pizzi filed yet another lawsuit Monday stemming from his ongoing public battle with the one-time activist lawyer.
But instead of Pizzi, (standing in the photo at the Miami Lakes library with a misspelled PAC sign), David Bennett this time sued Constant Contact for libel and/or slander because of an email sent to Miami Lakes residents. The author is a "Sandra Lopez," but Bennett and his attorney, Stephen Cody, believe is a pseudonym for someone else. That email said the dentist committed fraud when he registered a Florida corporation under the name Miami Voice, which is the name of the opportunistic PAC born from the mayoral recall fever, a group that ultimately ousted veteran commissioner Natacha Seijas. They were loudly outraged by the move. So what Bennett and Cody -- who represented Seijas in the lawsuit to stop the recall and PAC chair Vanessa Brito in a lawsuit against her by Miami Gardens Councilman Andre Williams -- really want is for the trail to lead back to Miami Voice and Pizzi, who represented the PAC pro bono.
And what they really hope is that Pizzi used a city credit card or account to pay for it. That would be unethical, illegal and, possibly, actionable.
Cody said someone at Constant Contact practically admitted the email author was not Sandra Lopez. "They said that they warned the person not to do it again. She said 'They've been put on notice,'" he quoted someone as saying. "But that's not good enough," Cody said. So Bennett sued them for intentional and negligent defamation.
In the motion, it says Constant Contact "is aware of the true identity of the person using the pseudonym 'Sandra Lopez' but permitted that person to hide their identity." It also says the company "failed to take reasonable steps" to make sure that the content they were sending on behalf of a third person was not "false, scandalous and defamatory."
Here's some of the email, titled "Urgent: Dr. Bennett Commits Fraud by Misrepresenting Miami Vice, sent March 8 to "friends and Miami Lakes residents" from Ms. Sandra Lopez:
"As shocking as it may sound, Natacha Seijas supporter and main campaigner, David Bennett, has registered a Non-Profit with the State of Florida under the name “Miami Voice.” As we know, Miami Voice PAC has led the fight to oust Commissioner Natacha Seijas and Dr. Bennett has nothing to do with the recall. In fact, he has attacked the original Miami Voice numerous times in his emails and efforts to fight the recall," the email author wrote, adding the link to the Florida Division of Corporation website where the record of the incorporation of the name can be found. "Their organization is aimed at destroying the real Miami Voice's efforts and has secretly and without permission registered an organization called Miami Voice. Bennett's Miami Voice organization is going to be soliciting emails from people in an attempt to continue his rampages against Miami Lakes residents and government and more significantly, to raise money."
They haven't raised money and he didn't need anybody's permission. Sandra Lopez, or whoever, also says that when television stations showed up at the address listed for the corporation (but she doesn't say at whose request or suggestion), they found a church (but she didn't say that David Southern, the other corporate officer, is a pastor at that church). But read on, please:
"No greater fraud of [sic] deceit has been perpetrated than Dr. Bennett creating an organization named Miami Voice."
Really? No greater fraud in Miami or Miami-Dade? Ever? Sandra Lopez has been asleep under a rock. Or, more likely, she is one of the Miami Voice promoters and boosters, perhaps PAC chair Vanessa Brito herself, who uses Constant Contact on a regular basis and has quite the flair with emails (more on that later). Or judge for yourself.
"Why would David Bennett solicit money from people pretending to be Miami Voice? Is this an attempt by Bennett to mislead people and misuse the Miami Voice name? Is there a valid explanation for all this? More likely, this is part of Bennet's [sic] ongoing and disgusting efforts to help Natacha Seijas by spreading lies, misinformation and deception throughout Miami Lakes in a desperate attempt to try and divert attention from his friend Seijas. Dr. Bennet [sic], let the residents put you on notice: You can send 20 emails a day spreading lies and deceit about Miami Lakes officials and other honorable people. It is not working. The voters of Miami Lakes are going to recall Natacha Seijas because of the tax increases and her vile conduct. No red herrings about Miami Lakes officials are going to change that."
Neither Pizzi nor Brito returned calls and emails to get their comments. An email sent to Sandra Lopez at her email address, email@example.com, but nobody wrote back or called at the number I provided. (Can't someone track down that ip address?) Ladra was also unable to reach Lisa Sparks, regional development director at Constant Contact. But I will keep calling to try to see what the company says about the email.
But Ladra recognizes Brito's hand all over it for several reasons. (1) It's obviously written by someone who thinks Miami Voice is much more important than it is. (2) There are misspellings throughout. (3) It opportunistically takes shots at Seijas in the midst of the campaign to oust her. (4) We wonder if that is a violation of campaign finance laws because there was no political disclaimer (and we know from past posts that she laughs in the face of campaign finance laws). (5) She has those starving-for-scoops Spanish language news stations on her speed dial. And (6) She uses the term "red herring" three days after Ladra used it to describe the woman's excuse tactics for being more than a week late with financial reports.
As for Bennett swiping the Miami Voice, Inc., name: It might have been silly and immature, or hilarious and heroically pre-emptive, depending on who you ask. But it certainly wasn't fraud. Bennett and his friend, David Southern, registered the name legally through the proper channels because the Miami Voice people had not secured it. They may have intended to confuse voters and get some traction from the quickly-changing-from-good-to-bad name recognition for their own recall effort against Pizzi. That might be sneaky (and, Ladra believes, counterproductive), but it ain't illegal. In fact, Ladra likes the move if only because of the email which, if it turns out Sandra Lopez did not exist, shows how Miami Vice operates (email campaigns are a staple).
And it would also be silly and immature if it was a Sandra Whoever who wrote that letter. But just silly and immature. It's still silly and immature if it was Pizzi or Brito. But it's also evidence of how they manipulate the public trust. Even if it wasn't public dollars used, it still smacks of self-promoting propaganda. And by using someone else's name, it shows a pattern of deceit (which I can spell).
Ladra has a suggestion for Dr. Bennett, who said he would give the name away to a non-profit for free if one wanted it. Let Ladra buy the corporation for $1 and hold on to it until that non-profit comes along (and is vetted). That way nobody can say Bennett is using the name inappropriately for this or that. And I can promise you, dear readers, that I'm not going to use it for anything.
Like people with no hidden agenda or liar's guilt, I always use my real name: Ladra.