Man who inspired mobster character is 'libel-proof plaintiff'

Libel | Feature | January 26, 1998

Man who inspired mobster character is 'libel-proof plaintiff'


NEW YORK--In mid-January a federal District Court in Manhattan dismissed a libel suit filed by a convicted racketeer against the makers of a movie about the Mafia. The plaintiff is "the exceptional, libel-proof plaintiff," a person whose "reputation is sufficiently tarnished that at most he could collect nominal damages," the court found.

John "Boobie" Cerasani sued Sony corporation and Tristar Pictures, producers of the 1997 movie "Donnie Brasco," alleging that he was defamed by the movie's portrayal of a character named "Paulie" as a murderer. Paulie was called John Cerasani in an early version of the film screened for preview audiences.

Judge Denny Chin found that "Cerasani is generally reputed to be an associate of organized crime. He has committed serious crimes."

Even though he was acquitted in the 1982 trial stemming from the actual events upon which "Donnie Brasco" was based, his reputation precluded his libel suit against the studio, director Barry Levinson and others.

Jonathan Liebman, an attorney for the movie studio, told the New York Times that the court's decision was a "victory for film makers and other artists who need to be free to create artistic works that are based on real events." (Cerasani v. Sony; Media Counsel: Jonathan Liebman, New York)