Tony Campaigne, whose caustic “Pepe the Parrot ” paid ads touched off a libel suit, agreed to apologize to the Key Biscayne Community Foundation and make a donation to the nonprofit as part of a legal settlement reached this week. The agreement calls for Campaigne to purchase ads in the Islander News and The Miami Herald displaying the apology.
“I want to take this opportunity to retract any untrue statements, and to apologize to the Foundation, Melissa White, and all of the Foundation’s dedicated staff, donors and friends,” said Campaigne in a statement that is part of a court filing made Tuesday. White is the Foundation’s executive director.
“Most importantly, I believe the Foundation has carried out its fiduciary responsibilities honestly and transparently. On this point, I want to put my money where my mouth is. I am donating $10,000 to the Foundation’s discretion, projects for the benefit of the Village and community.” The Foundation will match the donation, according to the settlement.
The Foundation’s suit claimed that Campaigne’s paid columns and a letter to the Village Council damaged its fundraising efforts and threatened its tax-exempt status. The suit centered on a false statement that tax dollars were used to pay for a retirement dinner for former Police Chief Charles Press in 2021. The Foundation helped organize the event, but Village officials said no Village funds were used.
The settlement heads off a round of depositions in the case that were set for next week. The Foundation had sought to place Justo Rey, the publisher of the newspaper, Louisa Conway, an unsuccessful Village Council candidate, and former Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña-Lindsay under oath. Lindsay had vowed to challenge the subpoena, filing a motion for a protective order.
“As set forth in my motion, I have no unique knowledge about anything in this lawsuit,” said Lindsay. “I wish the parties well.”
David Winker, who represented Campaigne, declined to comment, as did Rey, the Islander News publisher.
While the legal case is over, criticism of the Foundation led to changes in the administration of several popular Village programs the Foundation handled for years on a fees-for-service basis, a not uncommon practice in municipal government.
The charity cut its contractual ties with the Village, saying it had been subjected to a “smear campaign.” The Village then hired additional staff to make up for the shortfall, but the Foundation continues to work with various community organizations. White declined to comment.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.