North Riverside’s fraught political environment has resulted in yet another lawsuit, with a former mayoral candidate and current trustee and her husband claiming they were defamed by political opponents in the run-up to the 2021 village board election.
Marybelle and David Mandel filed the four-count suit seeking monetary damages in excess of $250,000 in Cook County Circuit Court back in January, but the defendants have just recently begun to be served.
Those being sued for defamation include Fernando Flores, a village trustee whose seat at the board table is next to Marybelle Mandel, the trustee who lost in a three-way race for mayor in April 2021 after a controversial campaign that featured lots of mudslinging in both directions.
In addition to Flores, those being sued include former mayor Kenneth Krochmal – sued for libel for the second time after a contentious election – as well as Nico Ranieri, the son of Village Clerk Kathy Ranieri; John Gardiner, a former member of the North Riverside Plan Commission; and North Riverside residents Laura Bersheid, Brent Bernal and Nick Tricoci.
The Mandels allege that all of those being accused engaged in a “campaign to demean, harass and defame” Marybelle Mandel in social media posts, statements made at public meetings that were reported on in the local newspaper and privately to voters as they campaigned door-to-door for candidates opposing Mandel in her bid for mayor against incumbent Hubert Hermanek Jr. and the election’s eventual winner, Joseph Mengoni.
“The clear motive, plan and intention of the defendants was to twist and turn small factoids into lies and defamatory statements, thus influencing the electorate to vote for their candidates instead of plaintiff Marybelle Mandel and her People Before Politics Party,” the lawsuit states.
It’s the third time a libel lawsuit has been filed in connection with a North Riverside election in the past decade. Two were filed in connection with the last particularly nasty mayor/trustee election in 2013.
Prior to that election PSI, the village’s paramedic provider, sued a slate of political candidates, which included Marybelle Mandel, for allegedly defaming the company in its campaign materials.
PSI ended up settling the suit in 2016 for an undisclosed amount of cash and a public apology printed in the Landmark, to which Mandel was not a signatory.
After the 2013 election, a police sergeant, Frank Schmalz, sued the village board and then-Police Chief Lane Niemann for retaliating against him by blocking promotion and stripping him of some duties because he supported an opposing slate of candidates.
In that same lawsuit, Schmalz alleged Krochmal, who was mayor at the time, had defamed him during an exchange outside the Village Commons polling place on election day in April 2013.
While the lawsuit was partially dismissed, the defamation allegation is still pending against Krochmal and the suit has not yet gone to trial. Attempts at settling that lawsuit, the most recent last December, have failed.
Krochmal is singled out in the Mandels’ lawsuit for comments he made at two consecutive village board meetings in March 2021. On March 15, 2021, Krochmal more directly accused Marybelle Mandel of being a “criminal” and called her a “bagman in [her] husband’s criminal scheme.”
He was referring to David Mandel’s federal conviction in 2000 for making false statements to a financial institution. Mandel appealed the conviction, but an appellate court panel of judges upheld the ruling. The written opinion implicated Marybelle Mandel in her husband’s scheme, although she was never charged with any crime.
“Mandel had [Marybelle Mandel] prepare a gift letter in which she falsely claimed that she was a relative of the buyers and had given them $12,900 for the down payment,” the appellate court opinion stated. “Mandel used $12,900 from his personal account to obtain a cashier’s check, deleted the last digit of the serial number, and made a copy for the lender as verification of the earnest money.”
David Mandel claimed his wife was an unknowing participant, but the court rejected that argument, saying “the evidence supports the conclusion that [Marybelle Mandel] was a criminally responsible participant” and that she “too could have been charged with making a false statement to a financial institution.”
The Mandels’ lawsuit argues Krochmal’s statements at the board meetings prior to the 2021 election were defamatory since Marybelle Mandel was never arrested, charged or convicted of any crime.
The lawsuit accuses Flores of defamation by falsely claiming David Mandel had called him a “no good Hispanic” in 2020 and then repeated that claim on social media during the 2021 campaign, allegedly stating the Mandels “hated Hispanics.” The lawsuit notes Marybelle Mandel is herself of Hispanic origin.
Gardiner, Ranieri, Berscheid, Bernal are accused of defaming the Mandels in public and private social media posts. Tricoci is accused of authoring allegedly defamatory campaign flyers and claims Tricoci was behind a letter read aloud at a village board meeting prior to the election, purportedly from an employee of North Riverside’s waste hauling firm, accusing David Mandel of harassing company employees and of threatening that his wife would fire them as the waste hauler if she were elected mayor.
The lawsuit refers to the waste hauling employee as Tricoci’s “buddy” and that it was Tricoci who “contrived the fabricated and defamatory letter.”