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36th Ward alderman files defamation suit against opponent

Chicago Ald. John Rice filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday against his opponent Nicholas Sposato, after Sposato called on federal investigators to take a close look at reported connections between the 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and organized crime figures.

The 36th Ward race is among 14 aldermanic run-off races citywide. The election is April 5th.

In his suit, Rice points to a March 11 press conference Sposato called in front of City Hall and “maliciously and wrongfully accused Alderman Rice of criminal activity, simultaneously calling on United State (SIC) Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Alderman Rice.”

According to the suit, Sposato tried to link Rice to a recent WFLD-Fox news report about mobster-turned-author Frank Calabrese Jr., who talked about how he made inroads with the 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization — but never mentioned Rice.

The same day, robocalls to voters wrongly accused Rice of being involved in criminal activity, including “pedaling…political influence” to mobsters, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

“Defendants’ false and unconscionable attack on the reputation and character of the [p]laintiff has in (a) space of minutes destroyed a name and reputation the [p]laintiff has built over his career and lifetime,” the suit states.

The calls, media advisories — even items on Sposato’s campaign website, have hurt Rice’s reputation, his suit contends, and he’s seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

Attached to the lawsuit is a single sheet “media advisory” from Sposato’s camp, dated March 11th. In it, Sposato is quoted as saying: “In light of the recent news connecting a known bookmaker and mob enforcer, to the 36th Ward Regular Dmeocratic Organization, I call on U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Alderman John Rice’s connections to the alleged pedaling of political influence to organized crime members.”

Sposato, a firefighter, denies the charges.

“This is an old machine political trick to force me to spend money on this rather than my campaign,” he told the Sun-Times. “I never accused Ald. Rice of anything. I just called on the U.S. Attorney to look at the 36th Ward Democratic Organization…based on the Fox report.”

“But he’s the alderman, he’s running for alderman again and that’s the organization pushing to get him in there,” Sposato said of the 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.

Rice’s attorney, Jonathan Lubin, said his client has no mob or criminal ties.

“To make a statement that my client is involved with the mob or even couch it as calling for an investigation into mob activities is defamation,” said Lubin, Rice’s attorney. “I understand it’s a heated race, but it shouldn’t turn into a forum for character assassination and it shouldn’t be a forum to defame someone.”

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