Trump donor who backed his $ 2 billion hotel business with $ 96 million in COVID loans threatens website to publish facts and opinions

from once again, -hurt-feelings-is-not-a-request-for-action department

Being on the defensive when criticized is a very human trait. This is often the default answer. And this is completely understandable. Very few people can suppress the urge to stand up for themselves – or engage in retaliation – when (as Tom Wolfe puts it) their egos are stripped of their virginity. As I said, this is an entirely human response.

But when the target of criticism manages a trio of multi-billion dollar companies, gut reactions should be tempered by the best judgment of the presumably expensive legal teams who are there to do just that: cushion the blows of online critics and temper the responses of their aggrieved employer.

Monty Bennett – a Trump donor with $ 2.2 billion in combined revenue from his hospitality holdings last year – decided his businesses were small enough to get some of the “small business” loans The government floated when the hospitality industry fell off the cliff in the early months of the COVID outbreak.

As the coronavirus ravaged the United States, the pseudonym “Doktor Zoom” wrote a very critical article for Wonkette about Monty Bennett, the billion dollar businessman who complained that he could only claim “only” $ 96 million in relief funds. Combining an astonishing blend of resentment and entitlement, Bennett wrote a blog post complaining about the government’s alleged reluctance to foot more of the bill for big companies like its own.

Meanwhile, Bennett – the self-proclaimed victim of small business lending regulations and restrictions – did this:

Bennett’s companies generated combined $ 2.2 billion in revenue last year, but due to Rona’s recession, hotels have put on leave or dismissed outright 95 percent of their over 7,000 employees. This is all so upsetting for Bennett that he had to console himself with very big bonuses, as well as huge dividends from his preferred shares.

While 7,000 employees were left out of work, Bennett took home just over $ 3 million in wages and bonuses. Of course, that was a huge reduction from his total of almost $ 7 million in 2019, but hitting a few million in pre-tax income is far better than no pre-tax income, like almost 100%. of its employees.

It hurt Bennett’s feelings. And it appears his firm’s legal department is unable or unwilling to talk Bennett out of making matters worse for himself. Legal threats were issued to Doktor Zoom and Wonkette.

Last week your beloved Wonkette received a very serious letter accusing us of ALL LIBELSLANDER.

[…]

Monty was, apparently, VERY MIXED that we wrote some real and mean things about him. SO upset, in fact, that, 16 months after Dok’s position, he decided to ask Holland & Knight partner Stephen Rasch (aka the lawyer for a big, expensive firm) to send us a letter, accusing us of sullying his reputation.

If you want to draw attention to how much of a con artist and asshole you are, legal threats without a real basis are a great way to do it, as Wonkette’s Jamie Lynn Crofts (who is also a lawyer for the 1st amendment):

You’ve probably come to our website at least once to read all the nasty and true things you are complaining about in your letter. So you should at least have an idea of ​​Wonkette’s tone.

Even without doing a quick google to see how could we react letters like this, have the words “Streisand Effect” really ever occurred to you?

But, again, thank you. Truly. The past week has been a very lasts week and I was in dire need of a little comedic relief. And a libel charge containing gems such as the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “fishy” was just what I needed.

The totality letter [PDF] is the kind of bullshit we’ve covered countless times here at Techdirt. When the facts are against you, let go of the paper tigers and hammer the tables, I guess. Pleasure lawyer Stephen Rasch perhaps wiping off writing these sentences will be the last pleasure he gets if he chooses to continue harassing Wonkette, or decides that he and his client may want to get their asses kicked in court.

The article states that Mr. Bennett “exploits[ed] the “small” business loan program and that its actions were “shady as crap.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “sordid” is defined to mean “sordid, corrupt or immoral”. Mr. Bennett and Ashford have neither “exploited” the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) nor acted in a sleazy, corrupt or immoral manner.

Thanks, Doctor Dictionary. I’m sure Wonkette and Doktor Zoom knew what the word “sordid” meant when they used it. Quoting the dictionary on a law firm’s letterhead doesn’t make it any more actionable.

I won’t go through this really stupid letter anymore, because Wonkette has already done it. Here’s the big-money lawyer saying things about defamation:

Wonkette mistakenly asserts that Ashford constitutes “a single company claiming that they are several small companies”. This statement is factually and legally false. Ashford, Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc. and Bracmer Hotels and Resorts are separate and legally separate entities. In addition, the hotel properties in the Ashford portfolio are owned by separate entities from Ashford.

Here’s Wonkette’s legal expert, skillfully pointing out how ridiculous that claim is, using the law firm’s own words to prove Wonkette’s point:

I find it really fascinating that the letter you sent us refers to Monty’s business empire as “the Ashford Wallet” but you would like to make sure that we affirmatively note that companies have named things like “Ashford, Inc.” and “Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc.” ” are, technically, distinct and legally distinct entities.

It’s just a part. The whole threat letter is worth reading for its inadvertent hilarity. Wonkette’s response is worth reading in its entirety for its deliberate hilarity, as well as its deliberate humiliation of a lawyer apparently paid enough to suppress his better judgment. Opinions (like “sleazy”) are opinions. The facts delivered by Wonkette are factual. And whatever developments may have occurred after the April 2020 post cannot be held against Wonkette, who was reporting facts known at the time of publication.

Oh! And it looks like we were meant to predict that at some point after our post was published, Monty would be publicly humiliated by return PPP loan money and rehire some people?

[Threat letter] “In addition, Ashford subsequently returned all PPP loan funds and rehired many of the employees on leave.”

May I have the number of your medium? Looks like you might get a good one. And I’m really sure it was all of the kindness of Monty’s heart and had nothing to do with the kill of stories about what is a waste. (I’m sorry. It was mean to the garbage.)

If anyone needs to back down, it’s Monty Bennett and his legal representatives, who have apparently been persuaded to act against Bennett’s interests by the guy paying their retainer, and I can only assume he signs his name “Monty Bennett”. But this is perhaps exactly the kind of stupidity that Holland & Knight – last seen at Techdirt abandoning its First Amendment defense in the face of pressure from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – likes to engage in.

Unfortunately, even extremely stupid lawsuits are a burden on those defending themselves against unfounded claims. And it’s unclear where the law firm might decide to take this lawsuit (it’s located in Texas but Wonkette’s owner, Commie Girl Industries, is located in Montana), which is another reason for which a federal anti-SLAPP law is needed to make things easier. for everyone involved to use the same rules and – even better – to discourage plaintiffs without legal action from draining resources from entities that have never defamed them.

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Filed Under: covid, criticism, libel, free speech, government support, monty bennett, payroll protection, ppp
Companies: ashford, wonkette

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