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Legal Battle Includes Allegations Of Defamation And Counterclaims Of “Malicious” Prosecution
By Tina Traster
Internecine fighting among former Pearl River Chamber of Commerce officers has escalated into a legal battle that includes allegations of defamation and counterclaims of “malicious” and “frivolous” prosecution.
Former Pearl River Chamber treasurer Michelle Worob on February 10th filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Rockland County against four former directors, claiming their negative public characterizations of her work as treasurer amounted to defamation. In her defamation suit, Worob, owner of Luigi O’Grady’s Deli in Pearl River, alleges former directors Brian Campbell, Matthew Worgul, Lisa Williams, and Jenna Fabio made statements suggesting Worob, who was treasurer from 2011 to 2019, “misappropriated monies for her own benefit and gain.”
Worob, who is seeking $1 million in damages, disputes any allegations of wrongdoing in her role as treasurer and touts her accomplishments over many years with the Chamber in the suit.
In response to the allegations, at least one defendant has countersued with claims detailing questionable accounting practices including failure to adhere to the Chamber’s bylaws, failure to compile and provide quarterly reports and budgets, using Chamber funds to make political contributions, and making unauthorized disbursements including paying herself and her business without necessary approvals.
Worob, in her complaint, says she understood her function as treasurer was to “oversee the Chamber’s funds, make bank deposits and pay the bills.” Each month, she says, she prepared a treasurer’s report detailing the Chamber’s bank balances and provided the report to the president. In the suit, she states, “if any officer, board member or member had a question about an expenditure, it was answered on the spot or shortly thereafter.”
Worob also claims she maintained a detailed spreadsheet of all transactions and would occasionally share it with the board president.
Worob resigned in Oct. 2019 and claims she turned over records in Feb. 2020. Defendant Worgul took over as treasurer. Both Campbell and Worgul have said the transition was rocky.
The heart of Worob’s legal complaint takes aim at what she says are comments that have harmed her public reputation. The suit alleges that on April 26, Worob was told by then board member and now Chamber president Susan Perzigian that former president Brian Campbell was making remarks at chamber meetings that Worob’s “handling of the chamber’s funds was suspicious.” According to the suit, Carmel Reilly, Orangetown’s economic development director and Chamber member, said she overheard someone say, “the previous Chamber treasurer wrote a lot of checks to cash that can’t be explained,” and that “Worob can’t be trusted.” Worob attributes these comments to Brian Campbell.
On August 1st, Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny told Worob, the suit alleges, that Campbell made similar comments to her.
And on January 20th, in a phone call with Perzigian and others, Worob alleges Worgul said “there was definitely a misappropriation of funds.”
Worob claims the defendants’ actions “attacked her character, honesty, competence and [affected] her business relationships and wellbeing, causing economic harm and inflicting emotional distress and mental anguish.”
After the former directors left, the new directors hired both a forensic accountant and an attorney to get to the bottom of the allegations. Perzigian said the board has hired South Nyack Attorney Donald J. Feerick Jr. and forensic accountant James DeMinno CPA of New City to “get the facts.” The Chamber is still awaiting the results.
In response to the claims, Campbell on March 30th, filed an answer with the court denying the allegations of the complaint and filed 28 defenses allegedly attributing Worob’s losses to her own conduct, carelessness, and negligence. In his filing, he states, “her claim for damages was caused by her own criminal conduct, negligence and/or intentional acts.”
He further defends himself by saying, “the statements and comments about Worob were true or substantially true, and cannot form a basis for defamation,” or “they were protected expressions of opinion.”
Worgul’s response also denies allegations of the complaint and mounts similar defenses to co-defendant Campbell. But he goes a step further by countersuing Worob for malicious and frivolous prosecution. He details in his complaint many pages of questionable transactions including checks she wrote to herself and her business.
Worgul charges Worob’s suit is without merit, unsupported by law and “was filed solely to harass and maliciously injure Worgul,” and asserts material factual statements that are false.
Defendant Lisa Williams filed a motion to dismiss the case, alleging the case is “devoid of facts” supporting allegations against her and that she is only included in the suit by being a former officer of the Chamber.
Jenna Fabio has not yet responded to the suit.