HUNTINGTON – The owner of a Florida landscaping company who started a newspaper in Lincoln County is suing the county's longstanding newspaper for defamation, saying it published articles that falsely implicated him in illegal campaign activity.
Dan Butcher and his business, Custom Surroundings Inc., filed a lawsuit April 15 in Southern District Court in Huntington against The Lincoln Journal, its editor Thomas A. Robinson and reporter Ron Gregory.
In 2006, Butcher, a Lincoln County native, started a newspaper called The Lincoln Standard, which was in direct competition with the Journal.
According to Butcher's lawsuit, the Journal started running a series of articles written by Gregory in April 2008 that related to alleged illegal activity related to the primary election.
Some of the articles, according to Butcher, sought to indicate that he was involved with others in a conspiracy to affect the outcome of the election and a subsequent cover-up.
The Journal's articles cited a criminal complaint that contained allegations of "the exchange of checks and/or cash between third parties, obstruction of justice, bribery, tax evasion, back-dating checks and knowingly and improperly filing campaign expenditure and contribution reports," Butcher's complaint says.
Butcher claims Gregory cited anonymous sources who "confirmed" that Custom Surroundings was the source of the funds being used to conduct the alleged illegal campaign activity.
Butcher wonders in his complaint if Gregory had any sources. He claims the statements made in the newspaper present him and his company in a false light and constitute an invasion of privacy.
The first of the articles, published on April 16, 2008, says that an analysis of campaign finance records by the Journal indicated that questionable contributions were tied to Butcher's family members, employees and associates. The article insinuated through "sources" that Butcher was funneling money to candidates through these individuals who had not previously contributed to political campaigns before.
A subsequent article in the Journal alleged that Butcher was involved in paying for candidates' political advertisements in The Lincoln Standard.
That article also cited a purported criminal complaint that named Butcher among the suspects.
Another article published on April 30, 2008, cited an anonymous source who said Butcher had fired a contractor because the contractor would not lie under oath.
Butcher's complaint says these stories, and others, defamed him and his business in the community.
Butcher is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the case.
Gary A. Matthews is representing the plaintiffs. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin.
U.S. District Court case number: 2:09-0373