“These politicians are taught that if they’re running 
for office, they can say anything they want.
But that’s not how the First Amendment works. 
Politicians can and do distort an opponent’s 
record all the time, but you don’t 
try to destroy a person.”

— Attorney Al Addis

Here’s a story that may send shivers up the spines of
some political consultants and candidates.

Joe Disano, a well-known Democratic campaign consultant,
has agreed to a most unusual court settlement with former Macomb County commissioner
Phil DiMaria to end a defamation lawsuit.
The 2012 suit was prompted by robo-calls placed by DiSano
during DiMaria’s unsuccessful 2012 run for state House in the 18th
District  that essentially accused the
Eastpointe Democrat of perversion.  The
automated calls alleged that DiMaria was luring young women into his home to
take “dirty pictures” of them.
A partner at Lansing-based Main Street Strategies, DiSano
initially was convinced the suit would be tossed by the courts. But two years
later he is now in the embarrassing position of executing a settlement that, in
addition to an undisclosed cash payment to DiMaria, requires several actions on
his part.
He must create and disseminate thousands of robo-calls to
the 18th District apologizing for the 2012 calls and alerting voters
that the allegations against DiMaria were false. He must create and publish ads
in print publications that similarly amount to an apology and a retraction. And
here’s the strangest part: He must arrange for meetings
with two lobbyists and make favorable comments to local media outlets if
DiMaria runs for office again.
The robo-calls were loosely based on my news stories from
2002 about DiMaria’s association with a website that featured photos of nude
women. But DiSano went a step further, mixing in some of the rumors flying
around at the time that claimed DiMaria, whose hobby is professional photography on a
part-time basis, was engaged in activities that were far from artistic.
I suspect his critics will be totally chagrined by
DiMaria successfully playing the role of a victim of hardball politics.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, here is a portion of what
I wrote:
The commissioner said he believes that the script of the
campaign calls was based on a decade-old incident and not on recent activities.
In December 2002, The Macomb Daily reported that a web page associated with
DiMaria contained numerous photos of nude women.
The photos, posted on the
website OneModelPlace.com, each contained DiMaria’s trademark but the
commissioner said at the time that his two photography partners were
responsible for the erotic material. Within hours of DiMaria being questioned
by a Macomb Daily reporter, the photos were removed from the site.

DiMaria insists he did nothing
wrong at the time and portrays the incident as an isolated matter. A Troy
police officer at the time, his commanding officers conducted an internal
investigation and found no unethical behavior, according to DiMaria.
He now insists he has never
shot nude or semi-nude photos. However he posted a message on another
photography website last year expressing interest in taking a class on nude

In November 2011, an online
“Meetup” message apparently sent by DiMaria, tagged with his standard business
photo, said: “Hi David, just want you to know I am a longtime photographer and
have shot nudes before, but it has been a long time. I know your class for the
27th is full but I would love to be included if there is any possibility.”
The “David” referred to in the
message is a photographer from Pontiac, David Birdsong, who routinely offers
workshops that feature female models and teach photographers how to shoot
artistic nude photos. One of Birdsong’s websites contains almost exclusively
nude and semi-nude photos of women.
Here is the news story my colleague, Jamie Cook, wrote
for today’s paper about the settlement:
The Macomb
A political
consultant who targeted a candidate with salacious and false allegations about
nude photos of young girls will publicly and personally apologize for his
actions and compensate the candidate with money and consulting services.
The unprecedented,
lopsided outcome in Macomb County was reached to settle a lawsuit filed by
former state representative candidate Phil DiMaria against Democratic political
consultant Joe DiSano and the call’s narrator, Dan Sloan. The deal was
formalized earlier this summer and will be executed in the coming weeks.
DiMaria’s attorney,
Al Addis, said this week the slew of requirements made upon DiSano and Sloan
were necessary in light of the untruthful, damaging remarks made in a June 2012
robo-call that went to about 5,000 homes during a political campaign. DiSano
wrote the script, and Sloan narrated the call.
Newspaper articles
were written about the calls, too.
“This was terrible
and way out of line,” Addis said. “When you start accusing people of inmoral,
criminal activity with underage people, that just doesn’t fly.
“He (DiMaria) got
what he was looking for – a retraction and to get his name back.”
DiMaria’s reputation
suffered tremendously, Addis said.
“People he knew would
see him in the grocery store and turn their back after this came out,” Addis
The robo-calls were
sent to homes in the state House’s 18th District in Eastpointe and St. Clair
Shores where DiMaria, at the time a county commissioner from Eastpointe, was
running in the Democratic primary against Sarah Roberts, who has not been tied
to the calls. Roberts trounced DiMaria.
The narrator said
DiMaria, a part-time photographer, “takes dirty pictures in his basement” and
“uses the Internet to lure young girls into nude modeling sessions at his
home,” according to court documents. The call ends: “Tell Phil DiMaria you’re
disgusted with his filthy hobbies. Call DiMaria at … and tell him to get the
head-doctor help he really needs.”
DiSano’s wild
accusations spawned from DiMaria’s association with a web page a decade early
that contained numerous photos of nude women. The photos were accompanied by
DiMaria’s trademark but were the responsibility of two photography partners.
The photos were removed from the site after DiMaria was contacted by a Macomb
Daily reporter in December 2002.
DiMaria, who was a
Troy police officer at the time, said two years ago an internal investigation
cleared him.
DiMaria is a
photographer but says he mostly shoots sporting events and musicians.
After losing the
August 2012 primary, DiMaria sued for defamation, intentional infliction of
emotional distress and tortious interference with a business relationship or
expectancy, in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. He said the calls
damaged him personally and professionally.
Judge Mark Switalski
in April denied DiSano and Sloan’s attempt to have the lawsuit tossed.
In the settlement,
DiSano, a partner in Lansing-based Main Street Strategies, must perform a
number of tasks, Addis said. According to Addis, DiSano is required to:
• conduct a robo-call
campaign in the same area where the prior calls were made and must admit they
allegations were “completely wrong and utterly incorrect,” Addis said.
• pay for and create,
with DiMaria’s approval, a print advertisement that will appear in two
publications and retract and apologize for the claims.
• personally meet
with DiMaria’s wife and apologize.
• create five
political ads and provide robo-calls for DiMaria
• arrange for
meetings with two lobbyists and make favorable comments to local media outlets,
if DiMaria runs for office again.
• pay Dimaria a sum
of money; the amount is confidential.
DiSano and his
attorney, Anthony DeLuca, did not return telephone messages Thursday.
Addis said DiMaria
could have taken the case to trial and possibly gained a better settlement but
decided “he wanted to move on with his life.”
Because he was a
public figure, DiMaria at a trial would have had to prove that not only were
the allegations false, but had to show malice by the defendants – they either
knew the information was false or had a reckless disregard for the truth.
The three members of
the facilitation panel all agreed DiMaria had a strong case, Addis said.
Addis said the deal
provides “a great lesson in politics.”
“These politicians
are taught that if they’re running for office, they can say anything they
want,” he said. “But that’s not how the First Amendment works. Politicians can
and do distort an opponent’s record all the time, but you don’t try to destroy
a person.”
Addis said they don’t
know who hired DiSano, but that DiMaria is sure Roberts was not
“My client suspects
it may have been something personal,” Addis said. “He is convinced Miss Roberts
had nothing to do with it.”
DiMaria did not
return a phone message.
The robo-calls came
about four months after DiSano was criticized by some for sending emails and
making robo-calls to nearly 50,000 Democratic voters in Michigan asking them to
vote for Rick Santorum in the presidential primary to try to derail Mitt