Above Photo: David Levine, pictured with his daughter Zoe, is suing Rockwool and Jefferson County for Prosperity for defamation.
A civil complaint was filed yesterday in Circuit Court in Jefferson County, W.Va., alleging that Rockwool Group, one of its employees and former members of the local development authority slandered a local resident. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
The attorney of plaintiff David Levine, a tech entrepreneur living in Shepherdstown, argues that Levine suffered harm to his reputation and business as a result of personal attacks on him, which began a year ago when he expressed opposition to the Rockwool mineral wool factory. His two articles critical of Rockwool on the website of Forbes magazine made him the target of retaliation, he says, by a senior executive of the Rockwool organization and local officials who had paved the way to bring heavy, polluting industry to the bucolic area.
The complaint names as defendants the Rockwool Group and its senior VP Björn Andersen. It also names Dan Casto, Stephen Stolipher, Ray Bruning and Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., the group which these three men helped form after they resigned from the Jefferson County Development Authority. The JCDA worked with the West Virginia Development Office to offer Rockwool tens of millions of dollars in incentives if it located its factory in Jefferson County.
The complaints lists numerous examples of alleged defamatory statements, which originate from social media posts, email and text messages. They assail Levine’s character and business practices. Defendants allegedly called Levine a liar, “fraud,” and “con artist”–one who “ripped off an entire town.” They claimed that Levine committed securities fraud and is a swindler on par with Bernie Madoff.
One Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., post describes Levine as “celebrating the death of police officers, getting high on mushrooms, and throwing bombs at police,” according to the complaint.
The complaint further alleges that the defendants conspired in a “joint scheme” to defame Levine “in furtherance of a preconceived plan.” Their goal was to “destroy Levine’s personal and professional reputations and advance the goals of Rockwool,” the complaint says.
Local newspaper Spirit of Jefferson was accused of participating in this conspiracy, although it was not named as a defendant.
None of the defendants contacted for comment have responded by time of publication. Any statements will be published as we receive them. The Spirit of Jefferson also has not yet responded to request for comment.
Levine’s attorney Steven Biss said that he has collected 762 Facebook posts, texts and other documents containing defamatory statements.
“We screenshotted everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of malice in the posts, a lot of venom.”
He described one of the effects of defamation as inflicting “a permanent scar on Levine’s reputation,” which has taken and will continue to take a toll on his business as an entrepreneur.
“These are highly incendiary, highly defamatory statements. The only thing they didn’t accuse him of is kicking the cat,” Biss said.
Rockwool’s motive in targeting a critic of their mineral wool manufacturing plant is simple greed, he said. In criticizing Rockwool’s proposed factory, Levine was “chopping down the money tree.”
Jefferson County Prosperity lists the Rockwool facility among the “Prosperity Projects” it supports. Its Facebook page has been the platform for many alleged defamatory statements. JCP wants to “stomp out the opposition [to Rockwool], that’s their goal,” Biss said.