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Hirsh Singh. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Mehta sues Singh, Shore News Network for defamation

Former Senate candidate claims rival illegally conspired with shady site in effort to boost Singh’s chances

By Nikita Biryukov, January 14 2021 8:22 pm

Rik Mehta sued perennial candidate Hirsh Singh Thursday, charging the perennial candidate flouted campaign finance laws by conspiring with a local news site that’s been accused of running smears against individuals who refuse to advertise with it.

The former Republican Senate nominee’s suit claims Singh and the Shore News Network formed an illegal campaign committee and coordinated the publishing of false stories meant to damage his chances in the Republican primary.

The site allegedly published repeated stories falsely claiming Mehta was racist and a Democrat and often echoed attacks launched by Singh, who is now running for governor after losing three primaries in four years.

It also published stories depicting Mehta as an opioid salesman and claiming he was secretly pushing abortion pills because an anti-ulcer medication sold by Pfizer. Mehta headed U.S. regulatory policy for the firm’s consumer health wing, which oversees its production of over-the-counter drugs like Advil.

Singh frequently repeated the attack claiming Mehta was a Democrat, including after the perennial candidate sent a letter to Republican primary voters asking those who had already cast ballots for Mehta to do so again for Singh. Voting twice is a crime in New Jersey, as is inducing someone to do so.

Mehta’s suit claims the stories are libelous and charges they harmed him in the general election race against U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

The suit, filed by attorney Alan Zakin, lodges three counts against Singh, the Shore News Network and its editor, Phil Stinton, who founded the site.

The first count claims the defendants portrayed Mehta in a false light through the attacks claiming he was a Democrat, an opioid distributor and a racist, among other claims, including ones that falsely charged he backed mandatory vaccinations.

False light claims are normally reserved for non-public persons. Though Mehta was running for Senate at the time — that makes him a public figure — he said the coverage damaged his standing as a pharmacist, attorney and business owner.

The second count claims Singh and Stinton defamed Mehta, citing many of the same falsehoods.

The third count targets Singh’s Senate campaign manager, Joseph Rudy Rullo, over a Facebook post in which he claimed Mehta exposed thousands to COVID-19 after attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, which Mehta did not attend.

Rullo is also a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor.

Singh did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment sent at 8:03 p.m. Stinton did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment made at 8:04 p.m.

Mehta faced fire from Democrats for refusing to quarantine after attending a Trump event in Bedminster hours before the president announced he and first Melania Trump tested positive for the virus. Mehta, who said he was at least 40 feet away from Trump, later tested negative for the virus.

Hirsh Singh returned comment at 1:05 p.m. This story was updated to include it below, in its entirety, at 1:22 p.m.

“Upon advice of counsel, I will not specifically comment on any of the allegations of Rik Mehta’s frivolous complaint.  It’s timing and the recent withdrawal of Doug Steinhardt from the Republican Gubernatorial Primary contest raise questions as to who is actually behind the Mehta allegations,” Singh said. “The suit revolves around the most sacred form of protected speech – political speech – which is currently under attack by Big-Tech and the providers of Social Media platforms.  NJ Republican voters should know that I will defend the 1st Amendment and all of the Bill of Rights which Governor Murphy has admitted are ‘above his paygrade,’ and I will fight this frivolous lawsuit equally as hard as I will fight for every New Jerseyan as your next Governor. “

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