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Former Buffalo nursing home owner hits Poloncarz with defamation suit

Former Buffalo nursing home owner hits Poloncarz with defamation suit

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stood outside the Emerald South nursing home in August 2018 to decry conditions there and call on the state Department of Health to appoint a receiver to take over operation. Many of those comments are now the basis for a defamation suit against him. (Lou Michel / Buffalo News)

Judith Landa, a former investor in the Emerald South and Emerald North nursing homes, is suing County Executive Mark Poloncarz for slander and libel.

Since last year, Poloncarz has railed against the ownership of the two area nursing homes, where patients have suffered harm or died, and has been an outspoken critic of Landa and her husband, Benjamin.

He later said he would "never be silenced by threats of others" when it came to protecting residents' safety.

But he declined to comment Friday after Landa filed suit in State Supreme Court alleging Poloncarz uttered and tweeted "false statements," used her businesses for political gain, caused her business dealings to suffer financially and damaged her reputation.

The Long Island resident is also asking for a permanent injunction to prevent Poloncarz from saying anything bad in the future about Landa or nursing homes she once had an ownership interest in.

The County Executive's Office previously stated that the county is prepared "to fully defend against this frivolous lawsuit" when Landa filed her initial notice of claim.

In her legal filing, Landa described how Poloncarz referred to her and her husband, who served as a landlord for Emerald North and Emerald South, as "treating residents horribly" and "putting the public at risk."

Emerald South shut down in early January, after the state Department of Health placed both nursing homes under receivership. Both Emerald South and Emerald North, for-profit facilities, received low rankings from the federal government and suffered significant staffing cuts after the company Judith Landa invested in became the operator in 2013.

William Strasner, 87, fell to his death last year while trying to escape out a third-floor window. Two years prior, another resident, Ruth Murray, 82, was beaten to death by another patient in the third-floor dementia unit when she mistakenly wandered into his room.

Her death led Poloncarz to propose Ruthie's Law in 2017, which requires nursing homes to give prospective nursing home patients and their families a copy of the nursing home's performance rating and to provide a summary of incident reports to the county's Department of Senior Services twice a year. Republican county legislators criticized the law last month as going unenforced.

In the lawsuit, Landa said Poloncarz was "malicious" and "motivated by spite, and ill will" toward Landa. In particular, she took issue with his tweets and verbal comments from August 2018, when a news conference was held outside Emerald South to decry conditions there. Some of Poloncarz's comments echoed those made by employees who worked there.

Landa also said that she and her husband, as well as members of her "team," offered to meet with Poloncarz "to educate the Defendant on how his statements were not factually accurate," but he declined to meet with them. Instead, she said, "he doubled down on his defamatory campaign."

In making her case for damages, Landa said Poloncarz's allegations "were meant to convey, among other things, that Mrs. Landa was untrustworthy, incapable, acted improperly, was siphoning funds away from a nursing home for her benefit and to its detriment, and by her actions and inactions was endangering patients, employees, and the public."

She also states that Poloncarz's "defamatory comments" caused a prospective buyer of the nursing homes to change his mind, resulting in the sale of the nursing homes for a much lower price. The court should award her the difference between the value of the original sale agreement, which was abandoned, and the cheaper agreement that was ultimately signed.

Landa and her lawyers have maintained that she never profited from the two nursing homes. They also stated that she and her husband, Benjamin, have invested about $10 million into the two nursing homes that they will never regain. Landa blamed "insurmountable issues predating her ownership" as the reason the struggling nursing homes could not be maintained.

Read the full lawsuit below:

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