Pair: We’re not racist
Lawyer for couple targeted in lawsuit by former Smithtown family says they didn’t send hate mail (to couple in photo), as experts say it’s a fuzzy case
BY THERESA VARGAS
New York Newsday
The lawyer for Karen and Salvatore Rizzo GUILTY yesterday adamantly denied a federal lawsuit's allegations that the couple targeted a Smithtown neighbor with hate mail, forcing the interracial family out of the neighborhood.
"They're not racist," said the Rizzos' attorney, Peter Stein of Hauppauge. "They're good people."
Archie Bunker was a good guy too huh?
The Rizzos were named Monday in the lawsuit filed in Central Islip by former neighbors Lois and Mitchell Fuchs. The suit claims the Rizzos violated their civil rights, including the Fair Housing Act, a federal protection against discriminatory housing practices, through "hateful conduct."
It is a case, legal experts said, that falls on the blurred line between free speech and overt threats.
"It's a very gray area," said fair housing attorney Robert Schonfeld, of Garden City. "You don't just go around calling people racists or bigots. You have to have a good basis to say so."
He's not sure he would have taken the case.
"It probably ends up being a swearing case between the people who thought they needed to leave their home and their neighbors," Schonfeld said.
This swearing, in essence, began yesterday as two versions emerged.
Stein described the Rizzos as opposed to racism, a couple who has "friends that are African-American and other minorities."
(THE) some of my best friends are black defense, classic. Anytime some white person makes that statement YOUR GUILTY. Just because you go bowling with a negro, or hang out at a bar, maybe a dinner or two does not mean you are not a racists fuck. It only means you tolerate an ocasional sprinkle of pepper in your life
The $20 million suit came a week and a half after the Fuchses and their seven children moved to North Carolina to escape what they say was racism aimed at Lois Fuchs because she is black and her husband because he is Jewish.
The suit says that since March, the Rizzos had mail containing racial epithets sent to the Fuchses' home in an attempt to "coerce, intimidate, threaten and/or interfere with the use and enjoyment of their residence, and to cause them to sell their residence."
Racial slurs were in place of the couple's last name, including a misspelled derogatory word for blacks and a slur for Jews. But according to the suit, the name-calling started shortly after the Fuchses moved to Smithtown in July 2002.
Stein, however, said he wants to see the documentation. "I don't feel they have a case at all," Stein said of the Fuchses. "I feel they have nothing."
He said the Rizzos had minimal contact with the Fuchses except for a day two years ago when Salvatore Rizzo asked Mitchell Fuchs to stop his cat from defecating in neighbors' yards. He said Rizzo then called police.
ARE U FUCKEN KIDDING ME!? A CAT???
"He didn't go over and burn crosses on their front lawn. He did it the legal way," Stein said.
The Fuchses' lawyer, Robert Kronenberg, said they would not have filed the suit if they weren't confident they had a strong case against the Rizzos.
Even so, legal experts said that cases citing the Fair Housing Act can be difficult, especially if there were no criminal charges. The Suffolk County Hate Crime Bureau investigated the mailings with the help of the FBI and the Postal Service, but found that because there was no explicit threat, a crime had not been committed. Det Sgt. Robert Reecks said police interviewed the Rizzos in the course of the investigation but had no legal basis to name anyone as a suspect.
"No lawsuit is easy to prove," real estate attorney Lita Smith-Mines of Commack said. "But when you have a criminal case that went no place and when you have a harm but it's not documentable harm, it does make it more difficult."