Defendant in defamation suit apologizes to East Lansing developer

Traverse City man retracts ‘unintentionally false’ statements against Chappelle

Posted

THURSDAY, July 1 — A defendant in a lawsuit filed by an East Lansing real estate developer has retracted a series of statements that attorneys have labeled as “false and defamatory.”

The lawsuit largely stems from a dispute between developer Scott Chappelle and East Lansing Info publisher Alice Dreger. Chappelle’s attorneys argued that Dreger’s reports — along with online comments from Traverse City resident Eliot Singer, a former East Lansing resident — were inaccurate, have since humiliated Chappelle and his company and jeopardized his company’s business relationships.

Dreger maintained that she was just doing her job as a journalist, but Singer has since publicly apologized to Chappelle and reeled back his statements in a two-page letter sent to City Pulse.

“I do not know Mr. Chappelle. I have never personally met him, and I have never communicated with him for confirmation or clarification of any of the statements I have made about him,” Singer wrote in a two-page retraction his lawyer sent to City Pulse this week. “I have never possessed any evidence or independent knowledge to even suggest that Mr. Chappele or his companies engaged in illegal or corrupt acts, in connection with Center City II or any other business activity.”

Singer added: “If in my attempt to protect the interests of East Lansing taxpayers, I unintentionally caused harm to Mr. Chappelle, his family, his employees, or others, I apologize.”

Chappelle was indicted last June and charged with mortgage fraud, tax evasion, filing false documents with and making false statements to the IRS, according to reports from ELi. A 2020 article on the charges, penned by Dreger, also reported Chappelle as the cause of prolonged statewide blight through development projects “mired in failures and questionable practices.”

Chappelle — through his attorneys — have argued that portions of those claims are false. Dreger’s attorneys filed a motion to have the case dismissed, labeling Chappelle as “another disgruntled criminal defendant using state defamation and tort law as a weapon to retaliate against journalists doing their duty to keep the public informed on matters of public concern.”

The lawsuit also takes issue with Dreger over an essay that was published on Public Response. The litigation also named Singer as a co-defendant, claiming that he had also allegedly made false statements in the online comment section in response to Dreger’s piece. Among the claims: Dreger and Singer’s comments lack “factual accuracy” and exposed Chappelle’s company to “scorn hatred, embarrassment, ridicule, shame and contempt” in East Lansing.

To help alleviate Chappelle’s claims of reputation damage and more than $25,000 in financial damages, Singer has walked back on every statement he has ever published about Chappelle. His attorney, Kyle Bristow, has since requested City Pulse publish his apology in its entirety.

A copy of that apology has been transcribed and attached to the bottom of this story.

According to reports in ELi, Chappelle is a long-time real estate developer whose companies have included Strathmore Development Co. and Terra Holding, among others. He was also reportedly involved with the failed “City Center II” project in downtown East Lansing.

Those Grand River Avenue properties once owned by Chappelle were reportedly foreclosed in 2015 and have transitioned to the current site of The Abbot and The Graduate Hotel near MSU.

After Chappelle’s indictment, his attorneys also reportedly demanded ELi retract its coverage as the federal criminal case appeared headed to trial. The lawsuit alleges four specific claims, including defamation, invasion of privacy, injurious falsehood and interference with business relationships. Dreger’s attorney, Brian Wossom, however, said those claims are not actionable.

“Rather, the reports are accurate accounts of public records, substantially true, non-actionable opinion and/or otherwise protected by the First Amendment. Further, Chappelle’s ‘tag-along’ claims are barred by the same privileges and constitutional protections,” Wossom told ELi. “It also strains credulity to the point of absurdity to assert that it is the defendant's news reporting, and not Chappelle’s federal indictment for mortgage fraud, that has caused his lender concern.”

Chappelle’s fraud trial has reportedly been pushed back to late July. The civil suit is ongoing.

Here is Singer’s “retraction and apology” to Chappelle and Strathmore Real Estate Group:

“For over ten years, I have commented on, and published essays about, Scott Chappelle and his development companies, including Strathmore Development Company. Most of that commentary appeared on PublicResponse.com, although some of it was directly or indirectly published on EastLansingInfo.News as well. Much of my commentary concerning Mr. Chappelle and his companies related to a development project in East Lansing known as City Center II, although I also wrote about other development projects undertaken by Mr. Chappelle in other cities. I do not know Mr. Chappelle, I have personally never met him, and I have never communicated with him for confirmation or clarification of any of the statements I have made about him.

“I reiterate here that I have never possessed any evidence or independent knowledge to even suggest that Mr. Chappelle or his companies engaged in illegal or corrupt acts, in connection with City Center II or any other business activity. To the extent that any reader or re-publisher of my commentary reached that conclusion or drew such inferences, they were not intended and are unsupported by any information of which I am aware.

“Much of my commentary concerning City Center II was directed at East Lansing City government officials, whom I believed were insufficiently focused on the financial risk of public debt and uninterested in — or incapable of — professional due diligence in evaluating development proposals presented to them. I stand by that commentary. However, I did not intend int hat criticism to state or imply that Mr. Chappelle or his companies were the cause of these failures on the part of the city. I recognize that commercial developers work within the government contracting systems as they find them, and that Mr. Chappelle and his companies did so here. 

“Finally, in the course of my investigation and commentary concerning Mr. Chappelle, his companies and City Center II, I researched certain other projects in which Mr. Chappele and his companies had been involved and which had experienced financial difficulties and, ultimately, foreclosure. Based on that research, I made a number of overly broad and unintentionally false statements regarding Mr. Chappelle and his companies, including stating that they “ha[d] never completed a financially successful development” and that “every Florida project in which they were involved ended in foreclosure.” I acknowledge several of my statements including “history of fraud” and “serial tax delinquencies'' were unintentionally false. I further acknowledge that these and other similar statements that I made concerning Mr. Chappelle and his companies were based on incomplete information and did not fully reflect the facts. 

“I acknowledge that my commentary concerning Mr. Chappelle and his companies came at a time of extraordinary economic disruption that disproportionately affected the real estate industry. My commentary did not sufficiently take that into account and I now make clear that much of what I had ound in my research about Mr. Chappelle and his companies during the period in which I was publishing was not financial distress, litigation or business losses unique to them, but rather examples of the dislocation being experienced by commercial developers across the country at the time. I failed to discuss the failure of Mr. Chappelle’s lenders and these adverse business conditions in my observations and conclusions. If in my attempt to protect the interest of East Lansing taxpayers, I unintentionally caused harm to Mr. Chappelle, his family, his employees or others, I apologize for doing so.” 

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Connect with us