Former Marco city official Rony Joel files libel, slander suit against critic

In this June 2010 file photo, minutes after Marco City Council discusses finding an outside firm to manage the city-owned utility, its current director, Rony Joel, accepts a 1st place award among utilities in the state for allowing the least amount of pollutants from the wastewater plant into the waterways.

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

In this June 2010 file photo, minutes after Marco City Council discusses finding an outside firm to manage the city-owned utility, its current director, Rony Joel, accepts a 1st place award among utilities in the state for allowing the least amount of pollutants from the wastewater plant into the waterways.

— The former Marco Island public works director is suing one of his most vocal critics, alleging the critic’s complaints on television and on a news website cost him his new job as director of the Lee County Department of Transportation this summer.

Rony Joel is suing Mario Sanchez, a computer science professor, alleging slander, libel and interference with a business relationship. Joel is seeking more than $15,000 in damages, as well as a court order that would prevent Sanchez from “committing any further acts of libel or slander against” Joel.

Joel contends that in June, Sanchez made false statements to representatives of Journal Broadcast Group, which owns Fox-4, and in a commentary Sanchez wrote, which appeared on the Marco Sun-Times’ website on July 12.

Among the statements Joel considers egregious, according to the lawsuit:

■ That Joel lied in public and at Marco Island City Council meetings and that documentation exists to prove he lied.

■ That Joel ordered workers to dig up Marco Island’s concrete water pipes “containing cancer causing asbestos, causing harm to the public.”

■ That Joel used “a machine to somehow wrongly crush pipes, causing harm to the public.”

■ That Joel was under investigation by the FBI for “some sort of kick-back scheme.”

■ That because of Joel’s actions, the Environmental Protection Agency cited Marco Island.

As a result of those allegations, which appeared on television and the news website, Joel’s suit alleges he lost his job as director of the Lee County Department of Transportation. Joel was let go from his new job the first day he reported to work.

Sanchez “acted out of ill will and hatred when he made the above false statements about (Joel) for the purpose and intention of interfering with and ultimately causing the termination of (Joel’s) employment with Lee County Government,” according to the suit.

Lee County officials have declined comment on whether Joel’s controversial past with Marco Island suddenly was too much for the department already under scrutiny of an audit by the Lee Clerk of Courts over allegations of management and employee misconduct.

Joel declined comment on the suit Thursday.

“The lawsuit says it all,” he said.

Sanchez said Thursday he hasn’t seen a copy of the lawsuit, but after he was read Joel’s complaint, Sanchez said there seems to be some obvious problems with it.

“The transcript of the television program that aired is available. Whoever prepared that suit has obviously not seen the tape because I never uttered most of that on camera,” he said, adding that he did say that Joel lied to the public. “As for the newspaper commentary, it’s called the First Amendment. I am entitled to express my opinion of a public figure. During all of the events that are noted in the complaint, Rony Joel was the public works director. He was in charge of the public works.”

The basis for Joel’s lawsuit comes from an issue that began in October 2005, when a crushed asbestos pipe was found in Veterans Community Park. That discovery prompted allegations against the city and Quality Enterprises, the contractor hired by the city to complete the Collier Boulevard Reconstruction Project.

City officials disputed the allegations, accusing the residents of planting asbestos to derail the project.

When the allegations surfaced, Sanchez and other residents collected and reported evidence to support their contentions that Marco’s underground water, which contains hydrogen sulfide, was pumped into canals to make way for construction of the island’s Septic Tank Replacement Program. At the time, many residents reported allergic reactions to a rotten egg smell that is associated with hydrogen sulfide.

The Collier County Health Department investigated the health concerns that residents raised in relation to the construction on Collier Boulevard as well as the Septic Tank Replacement Program, which began in 2005. The department found that the city had all appropriate health and safety measures in place.

In March 2006, Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Solutions (CARES), a former political action committee, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court over the asbestos allegations. That lawsuit, which accused the city of violating the federal Clean Air Act, ended in a settlement agreement in October 2006 that required Quality Enterprises to pay for the proper removal and disposal of the asbestos.

In 2007, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District ordered Marco Island to stop discharging waste into state waters. However, the order didn’t result in fines.

Last year, the city and Quality Enterprises agreed to pay a penalty of $81,722 to the Environmental Protection Agency over the matter.

In 2007, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District ordered Marco Island to stop discharging waste into state waters. However, the order didn’t result in fines.

Last year, the city and Quality Enterprises agreed to pay a penalty of $81,722 to the Environmental Protection Agency over the matter.

Shortly after the fine came down, on June 28, 2010, Joel was demoted. Marco Island City Manager Jim Riviere removed Joel as director of public works, naming him general manager of the water/sewer department.

Joel’s salary was reduced by $12,000, from $119,065 to $107,065, when the departments were split. Several years earlier when he became head of both departments, he had received a $12,000 increase.

Riviere then announced Joel’s termination in November 2010. It was to be effective April 1. Instead, Joel left on Jan. 7. He was paid seven months’ severance — nearly $100,000 — the week following his departure. Most city employees with severance packages are offered three months’ severance, city officials have said.

__ Connect with Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 27

happy6 writes:

poor rony...the man just won't go away...

liberator100 writes:

Good for you Rony. Make sure you go all the way and do not back down under any circumstance. $ 15,000.00? Why not a million or more? I sincerely hope you win.

happy34145 writes:

I hope you end up in the slammer where u belong.

JohninMarco writes:

Note to Mr. Joel, Be careful what you wish for.

NobodysFool57 writes:

Too bad he couldn't wait for his "utility expert" buddy to wrap up his law studies at Ave Maria and represent him. It would be priceless to see the 2 of them laughed out of court together.

themessiah writes:

It's about time someone stepped up to take on dirty Sanchez. Good Job Rony...don't let him get away with it!

blogsmog writes:

Note to Mario - Be very careful of the Collier county judge that is selected if this does go to trial. Change of venue request by your attorney makes a lot of sense.

ajm3s writes:

More litigious waste. But then again, with 100K severance, he must feel compelled to spend his money.

I guess things never change, Mr. Joel spending excessively.

Oh no, is that libelous?

dc5799 writes:

Dirty Sanchez? Who was more dirty than all the filth that ran the city from Moss down. And did not Dr Sanchez take on the city all alone and WIN,WIN. Tucker lied,lied lied and then admitted he lied.

ed34145 writes:

Good for you, Rony.

liberator100 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

RayPray writes:

in response to liberator100:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Is that you, Rony?

OldMarcoMan writes:

Its good thing you cant sue for being an obnoxious blowhard, Marco on mass would get served.

happyhorowitz34145 writes:

Oh give me a break!!!!
Rony Joel, how can you sue someone for telling it like it is?
With all the manipulating and coniveing things you did while working for the City of Marco, you deserve everything that happens in the rest of your proffesional career.
You're the scum of politics/earth and that's not libelous, it's the truth.

marco97 writes:

Rony is a great guy, remember when he increased the water pressure so everyone's water bill would be higher. I think he is dishonest at best.

happy34145 writes:

Mr. Sanchez I do believe we may get to the bottom of Mr. joels shannigans from this lawsuit. Please keep the course, don't back down, you have the truth on your side. The crack in the egg has begun.

deltarome writes:

you guys just like to kick a guy when he is down. technically, he is smarter than all of you put together. I have known him for years in a work situation. His downfall was pushing for projects that cost more than were needed or we could afford at the time.

NobodysFool57 writes:

in response to deltarome:

you guys just like to kick a guy when he is down. technically, he is smarter than all of you put together. I have known him for years in a work situation. His downfall was pushing for projects that cost more than were needed or we could afford at the time.

Gee, what projects were those? The electric municipalization/undergrounding scheme(which would have given us obscene electric rates), the Town Center CRA(could have easily put us well over $300 million in bonded debt), the Smokehouse Bay "designer" bridge, or perhaps the North Water Treatment Plant capacity expansion (MIU can't sell all the water they can produce right now). Poor Rony, he's learning a hard lesson about trying to eke out a livng on "Mark-up Island" without a six-figure salary. Boo Hoo. Three cheers for Dr. Sanchez.

jwputnam writes:

in response to dc5799:

Dirty Sanchez? Who was more dirty than all the filth that ran the city from Moss down. And did not Dr Sanchez take on the city all alone and WIN,WIN. Tucker lied,lied lied and then admitted he lied.

You are correct. Yes he did "WIN, WIN". His tenacity with the politically corrupt EPA paid off in a very significant win that did NOT get enough attention from the horribly biased and controlled press.

Thank you for your post and support of a true Marco hero.

I predict that Joel has made a BIG mistake in taking on Dr. Sanchez.

jwputnam writes:

in response to NobodysFool57:

Gee, what projects were those? The electric municipalization/undergrounding scheme(which would have given us obscene electric rates), the Town Center CRA(could have easily put us well over $300 million in bonded debt), the Smokehouse Bay "designer" bridge, or perhaps the North Water Treatment Plant capacity expansion (MIU can't sell all the water they can produce right now). Poor Rony, he's learning a hard lesson about trying to eke out a livng on "Mark-up Island" without a six-figure salary. Boo Hoo. Three cheers for Dr. Sanchez.

You are indeed "Nobody's Fool".

Thank you for your comment.

liberator100 writes:

Rony Joel will prevail in his lawsuit and Mario Moron Sanchez will have to pay up.

JohninMarco writes:

in response to liberator100:

Rony Joel will prevail in his lawsuit and Mario Moron Sanchez will have to pay up.

I do not know if he will or will not prevail, but I know that their are a few very nervous city employees who are worried about depositions.

happy34145 writes:

in response to JohninMarco:

I do not know if he will or will not prevail, but I know that their are a few very nervous city employees who are worried about depositions.

Bingo! I'm hoping those depositions will turn this into what it will be - a criminal investigation of Joel and his gang.

Ruger writes:

in response to MarcoIslandWoman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

So you think they came across the Mexican border?

You know that Obama would have given them amnesty if they didn't have a crime record "IN" America, right?

http://blog.heritage.org/2011/08/19/b...

This new policy strikes at a fundamental underpinning of our nation – the rule of law. It rewards illegality and lawbreakers, encourages even more aliens to enter the United States illegally, and comes at a time when President Obama has started his reelection campaign with such a low approval rating, that it is essential that he get a substantial majority of the Hispanic vote to serve a second term. It is another shameful instance of putting politics before the law.

RayPray writes:

in response to Ruger:

So you think they came across the Mexican border?

You know that Obama would have given them amnesty if they didn't have a crime record "IN" America, right?

http://blog.heritage.org/2011/08/19/b...

This new policy strikes at a fundamental underpinning of our nation – the rule of law. It rewards illegality and lawbreakers, encourages even more aliens to enter the United States illegally, and comes at a time when President Obama has started his reelection campaign with such a low approval rating, that it is essential that he get a substantial majority of the Hispanic vote to serve a second term. It is another shameful instance of putting politics before the law.

"This new policy strikes at a fundamental underpinning of our nation...encourages even more aliens to enter"

Open Borders was the 'fundamental underpinning of our nation' from 1790-1925.

Your grandparents probably entered the country under that policy.

During that period, growth in US GNP was twice and triple what is has been lately.

Whether immigrants are legal or illegal does not matter objectively.

Either way they do things, join the militaryy, buy stuff.

Check out the lawn service guys around here and Walmart superstores.

The solution for America is eliminate all welfare payments (like before WWII) and return to open borders growth policy.

Strat_56 writes:

Once again, Mr. Joel demonstrating his poor judgement and trying to make someone else pay for his ineptitude. If you're going to lie, it's probably not a good idea to do it under oath in a room full of witnesses.
http://www.marconews.com/news/2008/fe...

seasonala writes:

Just look at the character of Dr. Sanchez. He is a stand up and many times stand alone citizen we all should emulate. Then I might suggest you look at the other "character" or rather don't waste your time. Dr. Sanchez can recognize what is the truth. When did that become slanderous.

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