North Miami Beach mayoral candidate Anthony DeFillipo is suing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union for a mailer that suggests the Italian-American commissioner is a Soprano-like mob boss who plays fast and loose with the law. The two-sided attack ad, riddled with spelling mistakes, describes other candidates in the City Commission race as “Tony ‘Soprano’ Defilippo’s crime family,” assigning vaguely offensive nicknames to each in turn.
“This is a hate crime. This is an ethnic slur. This is no different than if any other ethnicity was attacked,” said DeFillipo’s lawyer, Michael Pizzi. Pizzi filed the defamation suit in Miami-Dade court early Tuesday, seeking more than $2 million dollars in damages to his client’s reputation.
The union claims it had nothing to do with the mailer that went out to city residents last week. It says Hector Roos, a local political consultant, illegally used the union’s name on the ad and has moved forward with legal actions against the consultant.
“We denounce these defamatory and offensive attacks against these candidates,” Jacqui Carmona, a union representative, told the Miami Herald last week.
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DeFillipo’s father also held office in North Miami Beach in the past and both have been active in the local Italian-American community. DeFillipo believes the attack was aimed at both generations. Contrary to the numerous innuendos presented on the flyer, according to Pizzi, neither DeFillipo nor his father is a member of the Mafia nor has DeFillipo ever sold his vote or been involved in corruption.
“We are going to leave no stone unturned for the people responsible for this. They’ve attacked a culture. They’ve attacked an ethnicity. And they’ve attacked a family,” Pizzi said. Libel is a high bar when it comes to public officials, and Pizzi will have to prove the creators of the ad both printed something totally false and did it with malicious intent to do harm. Hyperbole is generally considered opinion, not libel.
Carmona said the union did not create or pay for the ad, which nonetheless listed the union’s PAC in its upper left corner as the financial backer. It is illegal to misrepresent the interests behind a campaign ad. Last week, prior to DeFillipo’s lawsuit, the union sent cease and desist letters to Roos, his company Thor Media, and G Print, the printer. The union also filed a police report, and a request for a legal injunction against what it said was the unauthorized and illegal use of its name on the flier. There is no mention of the union’s denial in DeFillipo’s lawsuit.
Pizzi said his client will continue to hold the union accountable until the courts determine it should be otherwise. “My view is their name is on it. I know they’ve endorsed his opponent in the election,” Pizzi said. “They’ve never apologized to him. They’ve never offered any well wishes to his family as a result of this horrible attack on his family.” (The union has denounced the contents of the ad in interviews with the Miami Herald and other media organizations.)
G Print’s owner, Gilbert Gutierrez, denied responsibility for the ad saying he only prints what is given to him. Roos called the union’s allegations “nuts.” Gutierrez told the Miami Herald Roos was the client behind the order, though he later denied it, telling the Herald that he had read Roos’ name on the news.