A Hempstead Town animal behaviorist is suing an animal-rights activist who has criticized her qualifications and contract at town meetings and online, arguing her personal and professional reputation has been "irreparably" damaged.
Christie Ann Fanti filed a defamation, slander and libel suit this week against former Libertarian Hempstead supervisor candidate Diane Madden. Madden has called Fanti's contract with the town fraudulent and said she was unqualified to work at the town shelter.
“Ms. Madden has hurled such insults to my client and for the last two years has been unending, accusing her of fraudulent behavior and an unending stream every week either on Facebook or at town board meetings, using her as her punching bag,” her attorney Brian J. Davis said at a news conference Wednesday. “Well, at this point the punching bag is going to punch back."
Fanti has been a veterinary technician and worked the past nine years in dog training and behavioral modification, according to her resume. She has also been the East Hampton animal control officer.
Fanti was hired by the Town of Hempstead in 2017 after responding to a request by the town for proposals and given a $60-per-hour contract, up to $109,000 per year.
Following her application, her lawsuit states, “The defendant, along with a cabal of misguided animal-rights advocates, began a campaign to defame the plaintiff."
Fanti said Madden used Facebook to defame her and made false slanderous statements during town board meetings to discredit her.
Madden was served by Fanti’s lawyers after speaking during Tuesday’s Town Board meeting about shelter operations.
On Wednesday, Madden said that Fanti was worried about a new supervisor coming in and overseeing the animal shelter.
Supervisor Laura Gillen narrowly lost her reelection bid last week to Republican challenger Don Clavin, the town's receiver of taxes, according to unofficial results. Clavin has declared victory, but Gillen has not conceded, with absentee ballots still to be counted.
Madden welcomed Fanti's suit, saying, “This is a golden opportunity to further raise awareness to taxpayers about the continued pay to play and fraudulent contracts handed out as political job favors."
Fanti said Madden has accused her of criminal acts, including lying about her credentials. Madden has also claimed that Fanti's hire was part of a “patronage hiring scheme,” after she donated $200 to former Supervisor Anthony Santino.
In an October Facebook post, Madden posted a picture of a dog on Facebook with the caption, “overseen by fraudulent behaviorist, who lied through the hiring process… scheduling execution to hide political corruption.”
Madden said her contract was referred to the town attorney and the Nassau County district attorney’s office for an investigation.
Town attorney investigators found the complaint that Fanti lied on her resume to be unsubstantiated, town officials said. District attorney officials declined to comment.
Fanti is seeking unspecified damages that will be determined by the court, Davis said. He said shelter volunteers would testify that Madden’s allegations were lies.
“We want to send a message to Ms. Madden and the people who support her that this has got to end and this is the first step in doing so,” Davis said. “We want punitive damages to teach a lesson that she can’t hurl insults.”