Cordish sues law firm for defamation - KCTV5

Cordish sues law firm for defamation

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Cordish Co. is suing a law firm that alleged the company started fights to eject blacks out of the Kansas City Power and Light entertainment district.

Cordish, which oversees district operations for the city, filed the lawsuit in federal court.

Attorneys Linda Dickens and Austin Johnson, along with Dickens' law firm, are named in the lawsuit, which alleges defamation, witness tampering and racketeering.

"Dickens made false statements about plaintiffs to news reporters," according to the lawsuit. "(Her comments) tended to expose plaintiffs to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and/or deprive plaintiffs of public confidence in their business."

The lawsuit says Dickens sought settlement money in exchange for not going public with her controversial allegations and harming the company's reputation. Cordish also says Dickens knew the lawsuit was false and had a reckless disregard for the truth, and threatened the company in part by saying, "Would the Kansas City Chiefs want to continue utilizing the district for team events if insidious discrimination were brought to light?"

Dickens denies Cordish's allegations. She said she was not strong arming Cordish and that she has evidence to back up all her claims.

Earlier this year, Dickens filed two lawsuits involving Cordish's operations in Kansas City. A class-action lawsuit alleges that there is repeated and systematic racial discrimination against black patrons at the district.

The allegations include that Cordish Co. or its representatives hired white men to serve as "rabbits" to create fights with black patrons in order to get them ejected.

The first lawsuit on behalf of Glen Cusimano, a former manager and security liaison for Cordish, said he had orders to pay a white patron, known as a "rabbit," to antagonize black patrons in front of security staff so that security would have a reason to throw them out for responding aggressively. He said the "rabbit" would be tossed, too, but was allowed to re-enter at the opposite side to continue his task with a new set of patrons.

Cusimano was fired in 2013 after punching a patron, something his lawyer said was a set up and a "rabbit scheme" that was put into place to get him fired.

Cordish officials have strongly denied Cusimano's allegations.

According to the Cordish's lawsuit, Robert Fowler, an attorney for Cordish met on Dec. 30 with Dickens, Johnson and Cusimano to explain why the allegations were false. At the heart of the allegations are an affidavit from Thomas Alexitch.

In that affidavit, Alexitch claims he was hired by Cusimano on behalf of Cordish to serve as a rabbit.

"My job was to start altercations with certain groups of people. By starting these altercations, I ensured that these groups of people would be kicked out of the club," according to the affidavit.

Alexitch said in the affidavit that 90 percent of those he started a fight with were black, but he said he saw others who weren't black be far more disruptive. He said he worked at the district in the summer of 2012 and 2013, and was paid $50 to $150 per night plus all of his drinks were complimentary.

Fowler explained in that Dec. 30 meeting that the Cordish's third-party security provider takes reports when fights and ejections occur, and that there were no records of Alexitch being involved in any fights near Mosaic Lounge.

"In fact, Fowler's reporting of the true facts caused defendants to realize that the allegations or story was easily disproved, necessitating the invention by defendants of new false allegations that they hoped would be harder to disprove," Cordish claims.

Fowler maintains that during the Dec. 30 meeting that Dickens and Johnson insisted that Cusimano and Alexitch did not have a prior relationship. But Cordish claims that Alexitch has a criminal record and actually testified during hearings in when Cusimano was convicted in federal court for fraud and later sentenced to jail.

According to federal court documents reviewed by KCTV5, both the government and Cusimano's defense attorney listed Alexitch as a witness in the 2005 case.

"Defendants continued to manufacture false allegations. Defendants continued to fit the record, change their story and to falsely accuse plaintiffs so as to embarrass and economically injure plaintiffs," the Cordish lawsuit says. "Defendants' inability to stick with any one story is evidence of the falsity of the allegations against plaintiffs and of the intent of the defendants to harm the plaintiffs."

The lawsuit claims that Dickens continue to attempt to extort money from Cordish in subsequent telephone conversations. Dickens allegedly threatened to sue a former Cordish employee if he did not cooperate in her lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The man claiming he was a rabbit said Thursday that he did audio work at the Power and Light district and that the security manager approached him with a plan to get troublemakers booted from the district.

"It was more about the money. It was easy money," he said. "I didn't even think about the legality of it."

He said he accepted the offer to stir the pot for pocket money and he saw it as sport until he saw that he was targeting blacks.

"It was just undesirables," he said. "People getting unruly, undesirable."

He said he saw a group of white men groping a woman, but wasn't called into action. Instead, he said he was told to target a group of black men who weren't doing anything wrong.

"You don't really put two and two together because why would a black guy be telling him he wants to get rid of black people?" the rabbit said.

He said after confronting Cusimano that he said he was just following orders from his bosses. He said he realized what he was doing wasn't right.

"I'm not a saint in any way. Not a crusader," he said. "What's right is right. . . . but if I'm asked I guess the right thing to do is the right thing to do."

Zed Smith, Cordish's chief operating officer, issued the following statement:

We terminated an employee after receiving reports from the Kansas City Police Department and an independent third-party security company that the employee had struck a defenseless person and that the Police had filed charges based on the incident. Any responsible business would do the same.

We subsequently received numerous threats and demands that contained false and malicious statements about us and our businesses that focused on promises to use the press to embarrass us and damage our reputation, as well as use the courts for the same purposes. We stand by the allegations contained in our lawsuit filed today.

KCTV5's Betsy Webster contributed to this report.

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