CONCORD — George J. Hagerty, the former president of St. John International University, has added defamation charges to his lawsuit, initially filed over unpaid wage claims, against the school, in Merrimack County Superior Court.
Lawyers for the school are opposing adding the new claims to the suit. A hearing originally set for Tuesday will be rescheduled after the court granted a request.
St. John International University is a New Hampshire-approved, for-profit college program that operates a campus near Turin (Turino), Italy.
Separately, the state Bureau of Securities Regulation confirmed Monday it has received a complaint from an investor about SJIU and is investigating.
“We're looking into it,” said Jeffrey Spill, deputy director of the bureau.
Securities makes the third state agency hearing complaints about SJIU. The state Board of Education held a hearing in May and has an open review of the school's accreditation. The state Department of Labor has at least one wage claim pending against SJIU, and at least two wage claims filed previously have been settled by the school.
Hagerty, who lives in Anthem, Ariz., is represented by attorneys Donald C. Crandlemire and Jeanine M. Kilgallen, of the Shaheen and Gordon law firm.
In a filing with the court, Hagerty's attorneys said the university or its sole incorporator, Lorenzina Zampedri, made defamatory statements against Hagerty, including:
-- Dr. Hagerty wanted to “steal the institution” from Ms. Zampredi and fire all the Italian employees.
-- Dr. Hagerty resigned his position after “the writing major shareholder's (Zampedri's) refusal to transfer SJIU's license to a (sic) Dr. Hagerty's corporation.”
-- “SJIU had interrupted the cooperation with just a few direct cooperators of Dr. Hagerty because they were working without regular contract. This is a serious crime in Italy.”
“Collectively, these false and defamatory statements were intended to convey that Dr. Hagerty was dishonest, that he was incompetent as a president and in managing University affairs, that he engaged in criminal acts, that he plunged the University into financial distress, and that he breached fiduciary duties to the University,” the amended complaint filed by Hagerty's lawyers said.
“Defendants (SJIU and Zampedri) published these statements knowing full well that such statements and others were false and defamatory both individually and collectively,” the suit asserted. Hagerty's lawyers argued the false claims were made in retaliation for Hagerty's pursuit of unpaid wages owed for his time while serving as the school's president.
The suit asks for actual and compensatory damages.
In an objection, lawyers for the school said the claims of defamation and “false light” were separate issues that should not be allowed to be added to the wage claims suit. SJIU is represented by Attorney James J. Bianco Jr. of Bianco P.A. in Concord. Bianco did not immediately return a phone call.
“There is no rational connection between a claim that wages were unpaid or an employment contract breached and claims that the Plaintiff's (Hagerty's) reputation was defamed or shown in a false light,” according to Bianco's filing.
But attorneys for Hagerty said Bianco first raised the issue in the suit itself, when after agreeing to pay $45,000 in back wages to Hagerty, who worked for the school's Italian campus from Sept. 1, 2011, to Feb. 6, 2012, the school raised counterclaims alleging breach of duty and other issues against Hagerty.
Hagerty is a former president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge.
The SJIU/Hagerty suit is set to go to trial in November 2013, but the parties also have agreed to mediation, according to court papers.
Securities Bureau Deputy Director Spill could not confirm any details of the investigation, but a former school employee and investor Phil Lyon, who holds a doctorate, told the New Hampshire Sunday News earlier this year he had not been repaid an investment he made in the school after he requested it. Lyon had served as a part-time assistant to the president.