Petters critics sue Star Tribune for breach of contract, censorship

Stop The Petters Scam Foundation, a group that maintains a Web site and runs an ad campaign seeking to draw attention to the financial misdeeds of convicted Ponzi schemer Tom Petters, has filed a lawsuit against the Star Tribune, accusing the paper of breach of contract and censorship after it yanked the group's ads midway through their scheduled run.

The Strib said in a news story on Dec. 4 that it was pulling the ads, which "accuse prominent Twin Cities professionals of mismanaging Petters' assets since he was arrested last year."

The lawsuit says the Star Tribune was pressured by unidentified people to curtail the publication of the series of 15 ads, and that by doing so it committed a breach of contract.

According to the Strib:

Bill Hillsman of North Woods Advertising in Minneapolis, who has been directing the campaign, said that the Star Tribune told him the agency didn't fill out the required advocacy advertising application form, and that "the general counsel said there were a number of factual assertions made in the ads that they don't have the time and resources to review before publishing it."

All the ads can be seen on the group's Web site by clicking here.

"Ultimately, this lawsuit is about the value of free speech in America," said Garrett Vail, president of the foundation in a statement. "The Star-Tribune concedes that they received pressure to halt our ad series. The public has a right to learn what's been going on in the handling of the Petters assets. Somebody doesn't want us to continue asking questions and raising embarrassing facts. We intend to identify who pressured the newspaper, and hold them and the Star-Tribune accountable."

Dean Barkley, who finished out the late Paul Wellstone's U.S. Senate term, and who ran again for the Senate last year, is among the lawyers representing the foundation.

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