The Monster Mash

Jorge Mas Canosa answered a journalistic hatchet jobwith a libel lawsuit. But now everyone is getting cut to the bone.

In response, Crockett pointed out that at least one civil suit involving Mas and his brother Ricardo inexplicably was missing from the Dade County Courthouse, indicating that public records regarding Mas may be unreliable. "This is a lawsuit that the plaintiff filed," Crockett argued. "And the certain amount of airing of his dirty laundry is the necessary result.... We're entitled to complete discovery on whether he's involved in any criminal conduct."

Schwiep maintained that Mas's use of private detectives was relevant because Bardach's article stated that during Mas's 1992 battle with the Miami Herald he "told the paper's top brass that he had hired private detectives to investigate them and their children."

Schwiep wrote: "Mas's utilization of private detectives to investigate opponents (and possibly supporters) is directly probative of the article's allegedly libelous portrayal of Mas as manipulative, intolerant, and intimidating."

In an order issued this past December, Magistrate Garber ruled that Mas did not have to produce his financial documents at that point in the case, but he did order Mas to produce the other disputed items, with the provision that material related to private investigators would first be reviewed by Garber in his chambers before being admitted as evidence in the case.

By this past January Mas had turned over more than 300 pages of confidential personal information, as well as boxes of material related to the Cuban American National Foundation, including membership contribution statistics, Mas's correspondence with foundation executives and editors at the Miami Herald, the foundation's advertising budget during Mas's battle with the newspaper (for the "I Don't Believe the Herald" campaign), paperwork relating to various grants received from the National Endowment for Democracy, and internal foundation memos.

As word of the lawsuit spread, other people began providing information to the defense team. Anonymous packages began showing up. Former Mas associates telephoned and volunteered their cooperation.

Among the most damaging material in the court file today is a deposition from Mas's estranged brother Ricardo, which repeats allegations Ricardo made during the course of a libel suit filed in 1987. Mas's younger brother alleged that Jorge Mas had made cash payments to Dade County commissioners and one state senator in return for political favors, and that he had evaded taxes by keeping money in offshore bank accounts. He also alleged that Mas bestowed gifts (including cash) upon Southern Bell executives.

Ricardo Mas repeated those allegations this past April 16 in a deposition taken as part of the The New Republic lawsuit. In addition, Ricardo alleged that in the early Eighties Mas reached an agreement with a Broward-based business competitor not to compete for contracts in each other's territory. The alleged pact may have violated federal antitrust laws.

Lawyers for Bardach and The New Republic also requested the release of materials gathered in 1990 by a federal grand jury that allegedly investigated Ricardo's claims. In addition, they demanded that Mas turn over all his passports from 1985 to present and his "telephone books, Rolodex, telephone log or similar compilation of names, addresses, and telephone numbers for the period from 1985 to present."

"The defendants have pursued a scorched-earth strategy for litigating this case," Cantero wrote in protest. "They have adopted the position that because the plaintiff emphatically denies he is a mobster, they are entitled to discovery about virtually every aspect of his personal life."

Magistrate Garber disagreed. "Among the issues in this cause are whether [the] plaintiff is a 'public figure,'" Garber noted. He reasoned that the documents could "shed light on such issue" by revealing Mas's "community status" through his association with government and media officials. Mas has since declared that he could not find anything except his passport from 1991 to 1996. The request for the 1990 grand jury material is pending.

Ultimately the case comes down to the definition of defamation and how it applies to someone like Jorge Mas Canosa. Were the glib phrases written by Bardach capable of defaming him? Were they produced with a reckless disregard for the truth? Can he show how he was injured? Did it ruin Mas's reputation to be associated with the CIA, to be described as intimidating, to be accused of misusing government grants? Should the word "mobster" be considered libelous on its face?

Former editor Andrew Sullivan explained in his deposition that when he wrote "Clinton's Miami Mobster" he did not mean it in the literal sense that Mas was involved in organized crime. "I thought of it as somebody who was clannish, controlling, intimidating," Sullivan said. "Those were the sort of features that stood out for me."

During Mas's deposition, the defense lawyers asked what "defamation" meant to him personally. "Defamatory in my opinion is when you print a lot of lies about me and you call me a mobster," he said. "That's my definition of defamation. You have defamed me.

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