A Pound Ridge man who managed a finance firm in Hong Kong has sued the South China Morning Post for $20 million.
Avery Stone claims that the publication and reporter Peter Guy defamed him in 2016 when they depicted him as a crook, a low-life and an operator of a Ponzi scheme.
The Morning Post caused him “disgrace, humiliation and shame throughout the world,” Stone said in a complaint originally filed in Westchester Supreme Court and moved on Sept. 25 to federal court in White Plains.
Stone graduated from Manhattanville College in Purchase in 1989 and NYU Stern School of Business in 1994, according to his LinkedIn profile. He worked for American Express and then 10 years for MasterCard.
In 2008, he co-founded Global Merchant Funding Ltd. The Hong Kong firm extended cash advances to local businesses, for a percentage of future credit card receipts. It also originated mortgages and small to medium-sized enterprise loans.
GMF, according to Stone’s complaint, made returns of 8 percent to 15 percent a year. But by early 2016, the business was insolvent.
The South China Morning Post published a story that year that introduced GMF as Hong Kong’s latest swindle. It said that police were trying to help investors recover $58 million and that investors alleged that the firm’s three directors, including Stone, had absconded.
A week later, Bloomberg Markets magazine published a story that described Stone as a smooth talker who convinced bankers to invest $32 million and then vanished.”
The Morning Post re-published the Bloomberg story the following day.
One of the most damaging passages quoted Stone’s father, Richard, then 82, of Pound Ridge. His father allegedly told a Bloomberg reporter that he had loaned Avery Stone $89,000 “to get out of Hong Kong very fast.” He said his son stole $400,000 of family belongings, including a Smith & Wesson pistol, a Lalique bowl and a collection of watches.
“He’s a crook, OK? You can quote me on that,” Richard Stone allegedly said. “He’s lying low, because he’s a low-life.”
Avery Stone claims the Morning Post published false allegations. He did not “vanish,” for instance. He merely moved back to Westchester and he was accessible through the same email account.
He said his father suffers from dementia, including abrupt mood swings, disorientation and poor judgment. Pound Ridge police would confirm that it has no basis for crediting “Richard Stone’s dementia-induced fairytale of an account,” the complaint states, “or to charge Avery Stone with any criminal wrongdoing.”
The Morning Post should have known that Stone had not vanished and was not lying low, according to the complaint. It used those statements “to sensationalize their story and falsely paint Avery Stone as a malicious and evil villain and international fugitive from justice.”
Stone is accusing the publication and reporter of libel per se and he is demanding from $10 million to $20 million in damages.
The defendants have not yet answered the charges.
Stone also sued Bloomberg LP for its story in 2016 in Westchester Supreme Court.
Bloomberg has broadly denied Stone’s allegations and claimed that its story was a substantially accurate report of two police investigations, in Hong Kong and Pound Ridge, and that it was privileged under the First Amendment, the state constitution and the New York Civil Rights Law.
In July, the state Second Appellate Division upheld a ruling by Lewis J. Lubell, Westchester Supreme Court justice, denying Bloomberg’s motion to dismiss the complaint.
“It cannot be said as a matter of law that the statements provide a substantially accurate reporting of the two police investigations,” the appellate justices ruled.
Stone is represented by Kevin T. Mulhearn, Orangeburg. The Morning Post is represented by Willkie Farr & Gallagher of Manhattan.