An ongoing lawsuit upheld by a federal judge sitting in Newark against North Jersey Media Group, Inc., the parent company of The Record and NorthJersey.com, states that the prominent Bergen County area newspaper and its website fabricated news stories in the criminal case against Aakash Dalal. In 2012, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, then led by disgraced Prosecutor John Molinelli, had brought trumped up terrorism charges against Aakash Dalal in connection with a series of acts of minor vandalism at synagogues in Bergen County. Dalal, now 25, was found guilty of several counts in November 2016 in what observers have called a kangaroo court and the case continues to be litigated in state court.
Then publisher Stephen Borg and reporters Kibret Markos and Monsy Alvarado, who were named as defendants in the case, fabricated stories between March 2012 and present regarding Dalal, according to a 53-page complaint filed in the case.
Borg, Markos, Alvarado and other North Jersey Media Group employees fabricated a story in March 2012 alleging that Dalal had hit a Jewish student with a tennis ball during a tennis practice at Lodi High School where Dalal was once the captain of the varsity tennis team. School records show, however, that there were no Jewish students present on the tennis team during the time frame of the false story.
That same month, The Record and NorthJersey.com ran articles written by Markos containing false allegations made by Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney that blueprints for a school in Camden County were found in Dalal’s New Brunswick apartment. The police chief of the Camden County town in which the school was located later accused Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney of fabricating the claim as the blueprints belonged to Dalal’s neighbor, Tekton Construction, which had a contract with the school.
The lawsuit also raises questions concerning the relationship between employees of The Record and disgraced, former Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli who used the newspaper as a propaganda outlet. The Record also suppressed allegations that Molinelli had brought, exploited, and exaggerated the charges against Dalal in order to secure kickbacks from Jewish groups and remain in office. Molinelli had falsely accused Dalal of being a mastermind in the case when the evidence showed otherwise. The Record parotted Molinelli’s false allegations and poisoned the jury pool in Dalal’s case with the inflammatory and fake news articles.
In a 23 page opinion, United States District Judge William J. Martini rejected an attempt by North Jersey Media Group and its attorneys, Thomas Cafferty and Jonathan Klein of Gibbons PC, to have the defamation lawsuit dismissed. Judge Martini ruled that the Gibbons PC attorneys had repeatedly “neglected” federal rules:
[T]he Media Defendants neglect to mention Rule 15(c), which provides that an amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when “the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out – or attempted to be set out – in the original pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B).
The Media Defendants also argue that the claims against reporter Monsy Alvarado, who is named for the first time as a defendant in the new Complaint, are time barred. Again, the Media Defendants neglect to mention Rule 15(c)(1)(C)…
Judge Martini also rejected attempts by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office to have allegations of constitutional violations dismissed on behalf of Molinelli, Bergen County First Assistant Prosecutor John Higgins, Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney, Bergen County Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti, Detective James Costello, and other Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office employees.
This Court agrees with Dalal that the general rule, rather than the Younger exception, applies in his case. This Court will, accordingly, deny the Defendants’ motions to dismiss the Complaint, as amended, on the basis of Younger abstention.
Dalal, who is representing himself in the federal case, could not be reached for comment at the Bergen County Jail.
The following is an except of Judge Martini’s June 13, 2014 Opinion (from CaseText.com):
On about February 26, 2013, Aakash Dalal handed to jail officials for mailing to the Clerk a paid Complaint asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as claims arising under New Jersey law, against various defendants, including John Molinelli, the Bergen County Prosecutor; Bergen County; the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office; Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney; various detectives and police officers; North Jersey Media Group, Inc.; and reporter Kibret Markos. On about August 13, 2013, Dalal filed a First Amended Complaint, which set forth additional facts. Dalal’s claims arise from his alleged operation of a website concerning government transparency; the warrantless entry, search, and seizure of numerous items from Dalal’s New Brunswick apartment on February 9, 2012, which Dalal contends was conducted on the directive of Bergen County Prosecutor Molinelli, without probably cause, without consent, and in the absence of exigent circumstances; Defendants’ alleged fabrication of evidence to obtain a search warrant and an arrest warrant; the issuance of the search and seizure warrant on February 24, 2012; the issuance on March 1, 2012, of another search warrant, as well as a warrant for Dalal’s arrest on charges of aggravated arson, conspiracy to commit aggravated arson, bias intimidation, and criminal mischief; Dalal’s arrest on March 2, 2012, and another search of his apartment on that date; a press conference on March 2, 2012, at which Molinelli is alleged to have made “deliberate falsifications” and “outright lies made with the purpose of generating publicity which would serve to both inflame residents against Plaintiff and garner personal and political attention for Molinelli,” (ECF No. 15 at 7-8); the writing and publication in various newspapers and websites, operated by North Jersey Media, of articles that “baselessly and falsely stated that Plaintiff was the instigator and the ‘mastermind’ of the January 2012 arson attempts,” even though law enforcement officials did not use the word “mastermind,” (ECF No. 15 at 9); the allegedly reckless publication of the location of the Dalal family residence, which resulted in threats to the members of Dalal’s family and placed them in danger; the publication of false statements, reportedly made by former Lodi High School students who had played with Dalal on the tennis team, accusing him of assaulting a Jewish student, where the article’s authors knew the statements were false and they reported the false allegations for the purpose of inciting threats toward Dalal and damaging his reputation.
For example, Dalal claims that Molinelli falsely stated that Dalal had attempted to commit arson at various synagogues in Bergen County, even though Molinelli knew that Dalal was not in New Jersey at the time of the alleged arson attempts; falsely accused Dalal of being the teacher, instigator, and planner of these alleged arson attempts; presented alleged copies of instant messages, which Molinelli claimed were written by Dalal, but which “cannot be independently located and are not in the possession of any remote service provider or cellular service provider.” (ECF No. 15 at 8.)
Dalal further claimed in the First Amended Complaint that, in order to obtain a high bail, Molinelli and Assistant Prosecutor Delaney falsely told reporters that Dalal possessed attack plans in the form of blueprints of an elementary school in Camden County, New Jersey. Dalal asserts that North Jersey Media published these false allegations, even though Defendants knew that the “blueprints in question belonged to Plaintiff’s neighbor, Tekton Construction – a construction company contracted by the Camden County school,” id. at 14; that the Appellate Division twice reversed orders denying Dalal’s application for a reduction in bail and twice determined that the bail was excessive; that Molinelli and other defendants allegedly generated the issuance of statements by an alleged jail informant falsely accusing Dalal of planning to murder Assistant Prosecutor Delaney and conspiring to obtain a gun for that purpose; that based on false affidavits signed by defendant Costello, on June 27, 2012, certain Defendants obtained another arrest warrant charging Dalal with conspiracy to commit murder, terroristic threats, and conspiracy to possess a weapon for unlawful purposes; that on June 29, 2012, on orders issued by Molinelli, Delaney and Cucciniello, defendants Anzilotti and Costello interrogated Dalal, despite his request for counsel, attempted to forcibly coerce him into waiving his Miranda rights and giving a statement, refused to cease the interrogation or to provide Dalal access to an attorney, even though Dalal repeatedly requested an attorney; that on June 29, 2012, Molinelli “maliciously and falsely issued statements to reporters with regard to the newly fabricated charges against Plaintiff[, in which] Molinelli falsely claimed that Plaintiff had conspired to obtain a 9 mm handgun, conspired to murder Delaney, and that Plaintiff had conspired to commit arson attacks against local federal buildings – all after posting bail,” id. at 18.
On about February 25, 2014, Dalal filed a new paid Complaint, which the Clerk docketed on March 3, 2014, in Civil Number 14-1333 (WJM). In this new Complaint, Dalal repeats the allegations and claims set forth in the First Amended Complaint in Civil No. 13-1257 (WJM), and adds new defendants and related claims. Like the First Amended Complaint, the new Complaint asserts numerous federal claims, including claims for searches, seizures, and Dalal’s arrest, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; claims for illegal interrogation and intimidation of Dalal, contrary to the Fifth Amendment; a retaliation claim asserting that defendants took various adverse actions, such as a coercive interrogation, the fabrication of evidence and the filing of new false charges, in retaliation for Dalal’s prevailing twice before the Appellate Division on; a claim for conspiracy to violate Dalal’s civil rights; a claim for excessive bail; a claim for violation of privacy under 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa; a claim asserting the deprivation of due process through false prejudicial publicity and harm to reputation; civil RICO claims under 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c); claims for violation of privacy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; a claim for violation of Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701; and a claim asserting a conspiracy to intimidate and threaten grand jurors to obtain an indictment on false charges. Dalal also asserts claims arising under New Jersey law, for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, invasion of privacy, and violation of New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act.