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Marblehead Developer Sues PAC for Campaign Mailers

In the wake of November's City Council election, developer Steve Craig claims he was libeled by politico Charles Mann.

Steve Craig of Craig Realty Group is taking local political player Charles Mann, his political action committee and donors to court for what Craig's attorney says were libelous campaign mailers.

"Defendants know the plaintiffs have not engaged in any wrongdoing," the civil complaint states. "That notwithstanding, defendants have chosen to defame the plaintiffs in order to advance their own political agendas."

Mann said the lawsuit was a "waste of everyone's time and money," and was an attempt to dissuade locals from fighting developers.

"I feel that this is a totally unecessary and worthles effort to file a lawsuit aginast residents," Mann said. "Many developers realize they can't just walk into town building skycrapers and increasing traffic. Many residents have been supportive... this undermines the residents of San Clemente."

At issue is a campaign flyer titled "Voter Alert" sent to thousands of San Clemente residents in October to slam San Clemente City Council incumbent Jim Dahl and his de facto running mate, candidate Mike Mortenson. Both men lost to current Mayor Bob Baker and Chris Hamm

"The Voter Alert shows the campaign signs of Jim Dahl and Mike Mortenson next to a picture of the United States of America, Federal Reserve Note in the amount of $1,000 with the words 'Outlet Mall Developer' printed on the note," the complaint states. "The flyer states in bold letters 'Follow the Money,' thus directly implying that the plaintiffs made a $1,000 donation to the campaign [of] one or both of these candidates."

However, no such donation was ever made, the lawsuit says. And because there is no record of such a donation, a reader would infer the contribution was unrecorded and thus illegal, the complaint states.

Craig Realty is the group developing the Marblehead Outlet Mall that will sit adjacent to the I-5 freeway within the larger planned residential development. The city has approved the mall plans, but some have worried Craig would attempt to install large digital billboards along the freeway. Although no such proposal has been submitted, it became an issue in the November election.

The complaint states that Mann and his Watchdog for San Clemente Responsible Government PAC fabricated a direct quote from Craig: "I like Mike when he approves my ugly freeway signs," which "implies that this candidate's vote has been bought by monetary contributions from plaintiffs."

The attorney states in the complaint that "the overall tone... directly implies that the plaintiffs and other are engaged or were engaged in some sort of a criminal conspiracy with references to the two candidates having been 'Sold' to the plaintiffs, the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce and others."

Also included as defendants are Mann's wife, Jeri Mann, who is active in the Watchdog PAC; Janice Smith, owner of Better Presenter, which donated $4,000 Craig alleges was spent to print the flyers; and Charles Mann's company Pacific Corporate Consultants, which the suit accuses of loaning the PAC more than $7,000 to mail the flyers.

The suit asks for "punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish the defendants."

Charles Mann already issued a retraction and public apology for the mailers after the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce threatened him with a lawsuit of its own.

No hearings are scheduled in the case, according to the Orange County Superior Court docket. The complaint was initially filed Dec. 14.

Updated with a response from Charles Mann at 2 p.m. Jan. 8

Larry Corwin January 08, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Awfully sad turn of events. There certainly was an abundance of negative ad campaigns run this past election cycle at all levels of government and we all can agree it is something that should be considered very carefully before the first stones are cast. But this lawsuit in my opinion is much to do about nothing. As targeted as the language may have been, it never mentioned anyone or any project by name. Lab? Marblehead? It seemed as vague as the terms LA Realtors, Out of State Cronies, Business Pac and the rest. Our community needs a successful Marblehead project and a successful Marblehead project needs our community. Hard to imagine why Mr. Craig did not heed good advice and stay clear of the local politics. By failing to remain politically neutral by not allow any political signs on his property, he chose to endorse two candidates. That in itself in my mind, leaves Mr. Craig and his project complicit and fair game. Defamed? I don't think so but will be curious to see how far this goes. I hope cooler heads prevail and Mr. Craig recognizes the bigger picture by withdrawing the complaint and begin a constructive dialogue with our City representatives on his project.
george gregory January 09, 2013 at 01:53 AM
I believe Mr. Craig's permit has expired
busymomoftwins January 09, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Mann has run almost everyone out of town. Should this continue? Are we going to continue to support his admitted lying ways? Does he really represent us? (Then why didn't we elect him to council?) Think Mr. Craig should have the right to defend his reputation and we need to start appreciating people who still have the gumption to invest in our community. I'm sure I'll get flack for this one.
Larry Corwin January 10, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Hi Busy Mom, Charles Mann hasn't run anyone out of town and I certainly don't believe Steve Craig is going anywhere either. Further I don't believe Mr. Mann represents anyone but himself although it would appear a large and growing majority of people in this town do agree with his views. I think Mr. Craig's reputation is excellent and untarnished. Perhaps more accurately stated, he and others like him are not investing in our community, they are investing in their projects that happen to be in our community. Had it not been for Interstate 5 frontage in our city, I don't believe Mr. Craig would have any investment interest in San Clemente nor should he as an outlet mall developer. Correctly understood and successfully implemented, plans to work within a community should not be problematic but present opportunities to advance the interests of both the community and the business that wishes to operate in that community.
chris January 18, 2013 at 04:50 PM
I would like to point out that this probably one of the only large parcels with I-5 frontage and ocean views left in OC. Furthermore, the outlet malls do not accurately represent San Clemente' dynamic past and present. As residents it is within our bandwidth of accountability to make sure a responsible project is built.

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