North Bergen resident Vivian Crespo has notified the town of West New York she intends to sue for $3 million in damages, claiming defamation of character and mental anguish in violation of her civil rights by government officials.
According to a notice of tort claim filed by Attorney Robert Skoblar of Hackensack, on April 2 the West New York Police Department issued a press release alleging that Crespo had taken around $10,000 worth of jewelry from customers of a Bergenline Avenue pawn shop, Pepin’s Jewelry, and was on the run. The press release, issued to several local newspapers, alleged she and her husband Anibal owned the pawn shop.
The notice of tort claim alleges that these statements in the press release were “patently false,” that Crespo has had no “active role in” Pepin’s Jewelry since 1999, and that in 2001, due to a default divorce decree, Crespo’s ex-husband was awarded full ownership of the store.
After receiving the press release from Police Director Michael Indri concerning the alleged theft, the West New York Reporter published an article based on the information provided by the police alongside Crespo’s photo (sent with the press release) in its April 8 edition.
Church employee since 2003
The notice of tort claim also alleges that the police obtained Crespo’s photograph from her driver’s license, which lists the address where she has lived for the past 25 years, and says her phone number is listed in the white pages. The notice of tort claim alleges Crespo was not contacted by the West New York Police Department before they issued the press release with her photo.
The notice says the resulting release “has been absolutely devastating to her reputation.”
After a story based on the press release accompanied by photos of herself and her ex-husband was published on the front page of the Jersey Journal on April 5, the notice of tort claim says Crespo responded on April 6 by giving a statement to the West New York Police, and she also gave a televised statement to “Noticias,” a local Spanish language news show on April 9, denying the claims in the press release.
The notice of tort claim says Crespo has been an employee of North Bergen’s Our Lady of Fatima Church since 2003 and has “enjoyed an excellent reputation in the community.” Since stories based on the press release were both printed and televised, the notice says, she “has become very anxious, depressed and fearful” and has had to seek out therapy for “mental anguish.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at email@example.com