Robert N. DeBenedictis, the businessman who has been behind many of New York City's hot spots for gay men since the mid-1970s including the Wall Street Sauna, the East Side Club and the West Side Club, once shared a real estate investment with his brother Nicholas DeBenedictis, the former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources under Governor Dick Thornburgh and currently the CEO of the publicly-traded Aqua America.
The two brothers owned real property in Fort Lauderdale, FL as a personal investment through 528 Antioch LLC. Nicholas DeBenedictis was a manager in the company from 2005 until sometime in 2008 when he divested his interests. According to a financial disclosure by Robert as of June 30, 2009 he owed Nicholas over $350,000 on a note payable. Moreover, also according to this financial disclosure as of June 30, 2009, Robert DeBenedictis held over $125,000 in Aqua America stock.
Nicholas DeBenedictis has been a big campaign donor to Republican politicians -- more than $100,000 over the last decade -- including some such as Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Pat Meehan who oppose same-sex marriage.
Robert DeBenedictis recently settled a consumer class action for $30 million involving the sale and marketing of hair loss remedy Avacor through the company Global Vision with which he was affiliated. Global Vision previously has drawn judicial ire arising from its alleged relationship with Anthony Imbriolo who in 1994 was held liable for infringing upon the Minoxidil patent and was the target of collection efforts by Upjohn. In September 2005 a federal judge held Global Vision in contempt of court, and the July 2005 recommendations of a magistrate surmised that "[t]he freedom which Imbriolo was given in accessing, moving, and spending Global's assets surely suggests mismanagement, if not outright corruption, at Global," and "the Court does not find it unthinkable that Global and Imbriolo worked together to defeat Plaintiff's [Upjohn's] collection efforts."
The Wall Street Sauna was shut down by New York City authorities in 2004 as a prohibited commercial sex venues pursuant to New York State Sanitary Code (Section 24-2.2) which states that "no establishment shall make facilities available for the purpose of sexual activities where anal intercourse, vaginal intercourse or fellatio take place," and local health officials may close such establishments as criminal public nuisances in violation of Penal Law section 240.45.
The East and West Side Clubs remain open notwithstanding numerous allegations that they are gay bathhouses at which sex presumably is occurring behind closed doors. For example, Wally Wallace, the former manager of the Mineshaft and owner of the Attic both of which have long been closed by city authorities, alleged in an interview with Jay Blotcher for an article ("Sex Club Owners: The Fuck Suck Buck Stops Here") in Policing Public Sex (South End Press: 1996) that "the East Side Club and Wall Street Sauna survived . . . because they looked city officials in the eye and insisted that men were not using their facilities for a quick lunchtime fuck."
And Mark Milano, a long-time AIDS activist in New York City, alleged in an article ("How I Joined The Sex Police") for The Body that the position taken by the West Side Club during a court hearing in an unsuccessful attempt to shut it down in the mid-1990s was funny:
One of the funniest moments came when the West Side Club went to court to stop its closure, saying it was not a sex club. The judge asked, "If you aren't a sex club, what are you? You have no license to be a gym or a sauna." "We're a conference center," their lawyers replied. "For who?" "Professionals: lawyers, doctors, ministers." "Why do you have all those tiny rooms with beds in them?" "For people to rest in between meetings." But the West Side Club had one tactic the city couldn't beat: hide all the sex.
Paul Galuccio, one of the principals in the West Side Club with DeBenedictis at least at one time, reportedly admitted "that sex takes place on the premises" to Blother in "Sex Club Owners: The Fuck Suck Buck Stops Here":
Sex between men is an inevitability, Galuccio says several times in different ways. A pragmatic businessman, he says he is merely providing a desired service, installing measures of safety which are cost-effective and also soothe his conscience. The West Side Club provides safer sex information, condoms and lubrication. GMHC volunteers come in occasionally to provide safer sex demonstrations. Monitors verbally admonish couples who choose to cavort in the open, directing them to private rooms.
Indeed, Dr. Demetre C. Daskalakis, a professor at New York University's School of Medicine, "has been conducting HIV research in two Manhattan bathhouses—the East Side Club and the West Side Club—since 2006" as reported by a Jan 22. 2008 article ("Researchers Support NYC Bathhouse Regulation") for POZ Magazine: "so far, he has tested about 1,000 MSMs [men who have sex with men] for HIV and other STDs and has referred those in need of health care to Bellevue Hospital, which is funding his studies." A July 2, 2009 article ("HIV Testing in NYC Bathhouses") by Kristina Fiore for MedPage Today states:
As the number of HIV cases in the U.S. soars -- especially among gay and black men, and particularly in New York City -- one physician is going where few have gone before in terms of prevention efforts: straight to the late-night gay scene. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis runs the first-ever HIV testing venue at a New York bathhouse in Chelsea. * * * Daskalakis can find no better place to do his work. Today, some men come to the club just for the free test, not the sex. That, Daskalakis says, makes keeping the clinic door open into the wee hours of a Manhattan weekend morning worth it.
The preliminary results from Dr. Daskalakis's research are not encouraging: "HIV positive MSM attending bathhouses represent an important group to target for HIV education and prevention since many continue to engage in high-risk sexual activities."
Robert DeBenedictis has engaged in financial transactions with individuals who have done business with once-alleged Mafia-tied figures. A corporate entity involving Robert DeBenedictis borrowed money from Frank Biancaniello pursuant to a mortgage agreement. Frank Biancaniello also has provided mortgage loans to companies in which Lorenzo DeVardo and Dominick Acquista are involved. Dominick Acquista was identified by the FBI as a Gambino associate in the past, and Lorenzo DeVardo once pleaded guilty to possessing a pistol and silencer in the so-called Pizza Connection case. Others who have executed mortgage agreements involving DeVardo are companies affiliated with Bernard Paige which also provided mortgage loans for some properties owned by companies tied to suspected Genovese associate Jennie Tobin who operated gay bars out of the premises.
Both Robert DeBenedictis and Frank Biancaniello have provided mortgage loans through separate agreements to companies controlled by Salvatore Gaudio and his father Nicola a/k/a Luigi. Salvatore was busted in 1999 pursuant to an elaborate sting for allegedly failing to pay sales taxes on bottled beer out of an establishment he owned, and he later "pleaded guilty to offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree, and was given a conditional discharge contingent on his making restitution to the state and city of his sales taxes." In October 1987 the father and son together executed a mortgage agreement involving nearly a million dollars with now-deceased Gambino underboss Giuseppe "Joseph" Arcuri in connection with their purchase of 1496 Second Avenue from the mobster. One corporate entity involving a downtown property in which Salvatore Gaudio had an ownership interest identified as the company's address an office suite at 227 East 56th Street in a public filing which is a property in which DeBenedictis both has an ownership interest and out of where the East Side Club operates.
In April 2009 this blog Friends of Ours revealed the investment relationship between the DeBenedictis brothers in the Fort Lauderdale real estate but deleted it upon receiving an email dated April 8 from Aqua America's then-general counsel Roy Stahl which stated:
I am in receipt of your March 30, 2009 email to Donna Alston of Aqua America concerning Robert DeBenedictis. As General Counsel for Aqua America, I can confirm that neither Aqua America nor any of its subsidiaries has ever had any association with Robert DeBenedictis. Furthermore, Nicholas DeBenedictis has no personal investments with Robert DeBenedictis.
It appears that you, or someone on your behalf, has written a blog article, entitled "Aqua America CEO's Questionable Investment" which was published and posted on a "Friends of Ours" Web page on April 6, 2009. You are hereby placed on notice that statements and implications in that article are false, misleading, defamatory and cast Nicholas DeBenedictis and Aqua America in a false light. Please immediately remove any direct or implied reference to Nicholas DeBenedictis and Aqua America from this article or any other similar publication for which you are responsible. It is clear that this false publication was made knowingly and as a malicious effort to tarnish the reputation of Nicholas DeBenedictis and Aqua America. Your motivation for injuring Nicholas DeBenedictis and Aqua America is unclear to us, but your intent to do so is quite clear.
Remove any references to Nicholas DeBenedictis and Aqua America from the article at once to avoid unnecessary, costly and prompt litigation.
Query whether the demand to remove the material -- arguably intellectual property as written -- under the specter of "costly . . . litigation" from a blog involved in interstate commerce which both generates and expends revenue in its operation may have risen to the level of an extortionate threat under the Hobbs Act. See, e.g., United States v. Bornscheuer, 563 F.3d 1228 (11th Cir. 2009) (affirming conviction under the Hobbs Act by holding that the extortion target experienced fear of economic harm where the defendant threatened continuing litigation which "if carried to fruition, would have resulted in economic loss -- the expense the [extortion target] would necessarily incur in defending . . . lawsuits").
Although standing by the story Friends of Ours nevertheless capitulated to Stahl's demand, and by email dated April 10, 2009 the Aqua America general counsel advised the following:
In reply to your many questions, I can confirm that Nicholas DeBenedictis has a brother named Robert DeBenedictis. As stated in my previous e-mail, neither Aqua America nor any of its subsidiaries has ever had any association with Robert DeBenedictis. In the past, Nicholas DeBenedictis had a personal investment with his brother in some real estate in Florida, but at this time he has no personal investments with him. Beyond that we neither confirm nor deny any of the other information in your e-mails and blog entry. Please understand that it is your obligation to ensure that any statements you make are not defamatory in any manner, either by themselves or in the context they are made.
Once again, thank you for your responsiveness in removing the references to our Company and our CEO from your blog. We expect that there will be no future references by you to our Company or our CEO which is in any way defamatory or puts them in a false light.
Frankly, Friends of Ours never understood what the Aqua America general counsel found specifically objectionable. This blog wants to emphasize that it is not claiming that Aqua America made any investments with Robert DeBenedictis only that its CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis had a one-time personal investment with him in a piece of real property which was isolated from the gay businessman's other ventures. Moreover, this blog is not accusing anyone of any wrongdoing, and makes no adverse inferences from any financial transactions; rather, it simply is reporting information and allegations from corporate filings, previous articles and other public information. Finally, the ownership interests in and alleged activities at the gay establishments identified in this post are as of 2009 and earlier, and obviously much could have changed since then.
In any event, if Aqua America -- or anyone else for that matter -- wants to commence "costly and prompt litigation," then as a retired attorney who graduated second out of 432 in his law school class, was a notes editor of the Law Review, clerked for two judges -- namely, George H. Revercomb and Judith W. Rogers in Washington, D.C. -- and litigated at some of the best firms in New York this blogger will defend accordingly.