Belleville entrepreneurs sue citizens group for defamation

Ann Knef Oct. 15, 2008, 7:11am

Citizens Reviving Historic Belleville, Inc. and Maureen Morris are being sued for defamation and false light invasion of privacy by business people who sought to expand or build their enterprises in residentially zoned neighborhoods.

In a suit filed Oct. 7 in St. Clair County Circuit Court, Elizabeth Yarber, owner of Brick Street Tavern, claims the defendants "advised multiple persons that plaintiff Yarber was laundering money, dealing drugs or otherwise committing crimes in her establishment."

Yarber operates her business under a special use permit in a residential area and had been seeking support from residents to extend hours.

"Rather than oppose the endeavor by engaging in legal discourse, defendants embarked on a campaign of untruths in an effort to cast plaintiff Yarber in a false, unflattering light," the complaint states.

Michael Lieb, who owns property at 400 Mascoutah Ave., had been seeking a variance from the city to open a cafe. According to the complaint, Lieb had operated a cyber cafe in Edwardsville and was intending to open a similar establishment.

"Defendant Morris represented to multiple persons in the neighborhood that Mr. Lieb had a criminal past, was run out of Edwardsville, had multiple failed businesses, planned to sell pornography and associated with known criminals and gang members," the complaint states.

"She did all of this in an effort to poison the well and rally the citizens of the neighborhood to support her cause, that is get the variance denied."

The city council voted down the variance, the suit claims.

The suit also alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Yarber claims, "That Defendants knew the likelihood that an individual would suffer emotional injuries if it falsely told the members of her community that she was committing various crimes and was essentially a criminal masquerading as a business woman."

Yarber and Lieb seek in excess of $300,000 for damage to their reputations, loss of business, plus punitive damages and cost of the suit.

They are represented by Jarrod P. Beasley of The Kuehn Law Firm in Belleville.

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