DALLAS (CN) - A Dallas dentist who has been dogged by allegations of Medicare fraud sued a Belo TV station and others, claiming, among other things, that they falsely accused him of building giant water slides in his back yard while owing millions of dollars.
Richard Malouf and his wife sued WFAA-TV, its parent Belo Corp., WFAA reporter Byron Harris, real estate reporter Mary Candace Evans and the Maloufs' neighbor, Laura Wilson, in Dallas County Court.
The Maloufs claim that Evans, operator of www.candysdirt.com and www.secondshelters.com stalked their home for weeks before "stealthily" slipping behind their gate and 10-foot high privacy fence in August to take photos of equipment in their back yard without permission.
The Maloufs say they filed a police report for criminal trespass after Evans published the photos. One day later, they say, Evans published a story titled "Water Park Slides Have Arrived at the Malouf Manse on Strait Lane & World Now Knows We Are Serious About Medical Dental Fraud in Texas."
"The article's headline needed no interpretation, as Candy's words were precisely calculated to leave the reader (or world) with the false impression that Dr. Malouf was a thief, fraudster, and environmentally irresponsible," complaint states.
Federal prosecutors said in March that Malouf and the dental chain he partially owns, All Smiles Dental Center, agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle Medicare fraud claims
. "The U.S. and Texas contend All Smiles submitted improper Medicaid claims between 2004 and 2007 for orthodontic related-items and services that were not furnished or rendered, were unbundled and/or not properly documented," prosecutors said in a statement in March.
"In April 2010, Dr. Malouf settled potential allegations with the Dallas County District Attorney by repaying ... more than $46,000 for certain orthodontic claims and agreeing not to submit claims to Texas Medicaid for an 18-month period. Dr. Malouf did not admit any wrongdoing or liability as part of that agreement."
The Maloufs claim that their defendant neighbor, Wilson, helped Evans crawl onto her roof to take more photos for publication on her site or in conjunction with a WFAA television broadcast.
They claim that Evans, Harris and WFAA have published more than 40 stories about them and their home in the past year.
The Maloufs claims WFAA-TV reporter Brett Shipp falsely stated in June that Malouf had filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of divesting his "once impressive empire."
"Dr. Malouf has never personally filed for bankruptcy or been found guilty of fraud," the complaint states.
"Shipp and WFAA's false statements that Dr. Malouf filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of dismantling his personal estate suggest that Dr. Malouf is guilty of fraud and is therefore being financially stripped or penalized. Such implications are simply not true."
The Maloufs claim that with Wilson's help, WFAA, Evans and Harris spied on them with high-powered lenses.
"Due to the hidden nature of the residence backyard, WFAA has gone to the extreme lengths of utilizing its helicopter to capture aerial video images of the backyard," the complaint states. "Despite the Maloufs' residence obviously lacking any newsworthy character, WFAA utilized its helicopter and staff to invade the Maloufs' private retreat."
The Maloufs say the station published several other false statements, including that the backyard pool used 6.5 million gallons of water and that Malouf owned an Atlanta-based banking firm that owes $3.2 million.
Evans' website this morning contained a link to the Maloufs' lawsuit, accompanied by the statement: "The part about climbing on Mrs. Wilson's roof and the camera in the closet, to quote a dear friend of mine: You just can't make this *%#$@! up! Well, actually, I guess you CAN!"
Defendant Wilson is an accomplished photographer who serves on the boards of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies and the University of Texas Libraries. She is also the mother of actors Luke and Owen Wilson.
The Maloufs seek nominal damages and injunctive relief for trespass, invasion of privacy, defamation, libel, slander and conspiracy.
They are represented by C. Gregory Shamoun with Shamoun Norman of Dallas.