Apparently, the financially beleaguered developer Stephen S. Jemal is finding creative ways to raise funds after being slapped with a $5.6 million lawsuit: he’s turning around and suing bloggers.
Following GerritsenBeach.net’s investigation revealing the Riviera developer was the target of a civil suit filed by his investors, Jemal responded by having his legal team send a cease-and-desist, and request $20,000 to cover his legal fees. The story isn’t that simple though. Just before receiving the letter, GB.net was hit by a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, which temporarily crippled the server. Apparently, the DoS originated from a party connected to Jemal.
Here’s GerritsenBeach.net’s summary:
I posted a story about Mr. Jemal being sued for an alleged non-payment of a loan connected to his real estate projects in our area. I later posted a story about a “DoS Attack” on GerritsenBeach.net after it was contained, informing everyone of the resulting down time. I reported the incident to Verizon, the attacking IP’s owner.
Later that night after the attack, I received a letter via email from Stephen Jemal’s attorneys, demanding that I take down my post, citing defamation.
The letter requested, among other things, removing the post from his site and every site that referenced it (including Sheepshead Bites and even Google), a non-disparagement agreement (meaning no more negative posts about Jemal), and the aforementioned $20,000 – which may have later been used to pay back his investors… and hopefully buy a book on how the interweb works.
The real kicker here is that the content the lawyers pointed to as defamatory in their letter (which can be viewed on GB.net) did not originate from that blog. They instead came from the SB/PB Civic Association’s website, and referred to his family’s shady business dealings. It was not the matter of the investor’s civil suit – which remains verifiable fact. Gene Berardelli, who authored the post on SB/PB, was sent the same letter – but that does not explain why GerritsenBeach.net was thought to be accountable.
Also lingering is the question of the DoS attack. Shortly after receiving the letter from Jemal’s lawyers, an employee of SSJ Development emailed GB.net.
After posting about the DoS attack, I received multiple emails from (name withheld)@SSJDevelopment.com stating that he knows that someone VERY CLOSELY connected to Mr. Jemal, (Another Name Withheld) used a “bash script” that the author of the email taught this person.
Upon reviewing the website logs, the script described was indeed the script used to attack this website. Based on the connection between the two pieces of information, I have reason to believe the author of the email.
Mr. Jemal’s attorneys have since told me that the attack on the site was the work of a “renegade employee” who acted without knowledge or authorization of Mr. Jemal. They also told me that Mr. Jemal fired this employee.
Ultimately, GB.net and Berardelli presented this information to SSJ’s lawyers, who probably already knew they had a flimsy suit that hardly constituted defamation. Their dreams of intimidating a poor blogger ended, and both sides agreed not to press their case any further (Verizon and GB.net’s hosting company still have records of the DoS’s perpetrator, and will hopefully be following up).
Of course, the implications of the lawsuit-that-never-was are obvious. Jemal and his goons are clearly trying to intimidate writers who are taking a close look at his questionable business dealings. He’s using lawsuits for sums of money that any independent blogger would be incapable of coming up with – thus forcing the easily intimidated into settling and giving into some of the demands – such as the non-disparagement agreement.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we media elite call a “chilling effect” – when the perceived risks of reporting information scare off thorough and necessary efforts to convey the truth. It didn’t work this time, thanks to the courage of bloggers like Daniel Cavanagh at GB.net. Kudos to you.