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Greene threatens Florida papers with lawsuit

By Jeff Simon and Jessica Yellin, CNN

(CNN) -- Florida Senate candidate Jeff Greene is a billionaire real estate investor who has spent millions to fund his primary campaign against fellow Democrat, Rep. Kendrick Meek. Now, one week before Florida's primary elections, Greene is preparing to spend his money on a lawsuit against two Florida newspapers if they don't publish lengthy retractions to damning articles they recently published about Greene.

Greene's lawyer has demanded the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald publish the retractions to correct three articles the newspapers published earlier this month. The articles were written by St. Petersburg Times reporters and were first printed by the Tampa-area newspaper. The Miami Herald printed the articles shortly thereafter. The papers have a working partnership and often share resources to cover state news.

Times editor Neil Brown said last week that no retraction is forthcoming, and Greene is expected to follow through, potentially as early as Friday.

In one of the stories, first published on August 8, the Times reported that in 2006, Greene had sold California property to Delbert McConville, who is now in jail facing conspiracy and money laundering charges. Greene admits to selling McConville 300 condos, but insists that his connection to McConville ends there and that he was not a party to the dealings McConville engaged in that led him to jail.

In another story, the Times linked comments Mike Tyson made to Sports Illustrated in an interview published on July 28 to time the boxer spent aboard Greene's 145-foot yacht, describing the activity on the yacht as lavish, teeming with naked, drunken parties. Greene denies those claims.

In an August 16 letter to Miami Herald executive editor Anders Gyllenhaal, attorney L. Lin Wood, said the stories are "replete with false, misleading and defamatory statements of face concerning Mr. Greene."

Wood sent a similar letter to the top editors at the Times on August 11.

Both papers have endorsed Meek in the Democratic primary.

Greene is threatening to open his wallet wide to wage this legal fight.

"It will be a substantial lawsuit, because I am a high net-worth individual who does earn a lot of money," Greene said at a press conference last week that recorded by the Miami Herald, "and if my reputation is damaged, the St. Petersburg Times will be held accountable."

According to Greene's campaign, the candidate provided the Times reporters with more than 70 pages of documents and spoke on the record for the articles.

Brown defended his paper's work.

"The Times' coverage of Mr. Greene and his business transactions has been thorough and fair, and the reporting is well-documented in public records," Brown said in a statement published on its political blog. "Our story is accurate, balanced and we stand by it."

"Mr. Greene is welcome to submit a letter to the editor if he wishes to take further exception," Brown added.

Tyson - who is a close friend to Green and was best man at his 2007 wedding -- spent a month aboard Greene's yacht, Summerwind, during the summer of 2005. In the Sports Illustrated article, Tyson describes a wild time in his life, receiving "a big rock of cocaine" and picking up "naked girls" during his European travels. But Tyson does not mention Greene's name, and the candidate told the Times that he didn't see or take any drugs and that "Summerwind has a zero tolerance for drugs or any illegal activity."

Sports Illustrated declined CNN's request for comment.

With no indication that either paper plans on printing a retraction, Greene can move forward on a joint lawsuit against both papers as early as this Friday. An aide to Greene told CNN that this is no political bluff and that "recklessly disregarding the truth is actionable and Jeff plans to take action."

Florida's primary elections will be held August 24.

 
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