Jury awards businessmen defamed by Michael Gill $274.5 million, most in NH historyBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
September 29. 2017 2:12PM
CONCORD — A Merrimack County jury awarded three Manchester-area businessmen $274.5 million in their lawsuit against mortgage broker Michael Gill, who accused them of drug dealing and other crimes on prominent electronic billboards and social media viewed by millions.
Steve Gordon, an attorney who represented AutoFair owner Andy Crews, Manchester developer Dick Anagnost and Primary Bank founder William Greiner, said it is believed to be the largest personal injury verdict in New Hampshire.
“The bully has finally been punched in the mouth, which is what we wanted to do for a long time,” Crews said at a press conference outside the Merrimack County Superior Courthouse.
The verdict ended a week-long trial that started with Gill, the founder of Mortgage Specialists Inc., dramatically walking out of the courthouse and calling the trial a criminal enterprise.
Judge Brian Tucker had already ruled that defamation took place. The only issue for the jury was the size of the award.
During the trial, each of the three victims took the stand and detailed the effects of being accused of crimes such as drug dealing, money laundering and gun running. Gill played out the accusations on a radio show, electronic billboards in high traffic areas such as Manchester’s South Willow Street and social media that logged views in the thousands, sometimes millions.
“This was never about the money,” said Anagnost. Gill went after politicians, judges and people without the resources to fight back, Anagnost said. But he and his co-plaintiffs could afford the fight, and the verdict saves future victims from any slanders by Gill, Anagnost said.
The verdicts break down as follows:
• Crews, who showed the most in out-of-pocket losses: $97 million.
• Anagnost, who testified that he lost out on a development deal because of the allegations, $92.5 million.
• Greiner, who did not claim any direct monetary losses, $85 million.
The jury awarded each $35 million in special damages, which encompasses harm to reputation and emotional distress. And it awarded $50 million to each in compensatory damages, which means they found Gill acted with hatred, hostility or evil motive.
“Today is a first step to getting our lives back to normal,” Greiner said. “This has taken a toll on each and every one of us on all ways we can imagine.”
All three said most of the money they collect will go to charity.
Both Anagnost and Crews said the verdict could have far-reaching effects in the world of social media. Crews hopes the allegations will change the social media habits of someone who accuses people of crimes.
“As a Marine Corps vet I’m very serious about First Amendment rights, I believe in them, but I also believe that as a human being, the Golden Rule should come first,” Crews said. Everyone has the responsibility to not make false accusations they can’t back up, he said.
A judge has already ordered that the electricity be cut to Gill’s electronic billboards, and radio station Pulse 107.7 has halted Gill’s paid program. Next up, Anagnost said, Gordon will seek an injunction ordering Facebook and Twitter to close Gill’s accounts.
“We become the aggressor now,” Anagnost said.
Before the trial started, Judge Brian Tucker granted a $12 million attachment against Gill on behalf of the three. Gordon and his clients acknowledged it will be a long fight to collect the entire verdict. But Gordon said his legal team will double the determination they have devoted to the case so far.
“Mr. Gill deserves to be out of business, it’s our intent to put him out of business, it’s our intent to take away from him everything he financially has,” Gordon said. “The law is on our side.”