Shelton Haynes with Erica Spencer-EL, September 11th, 2021

RIOC Sucks Wind Now In Defamation Claims Against Whistleblowers


Whistleblowers Erica Spencer-EL, Amy Smith and Jessica Cerone sued RIOC for unlawful termination in February. In an extraordinary move, the state agency fired back with defamation claims in a separate lawsuit. But last month, The Daily learned, that lawsuit was unceremoniously abandoned. The whistleblowers’ lawsuit accusing RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and other executives of retaliatory dismissals remains.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

“RIOC withdrew its claim for defamation against Erica, Amy and Jessica,” a court observer wrote to The Daily.  “I do not know how exactly this happened, but it looks like RIOC withdrew unilaterally, likely after having their asses handed to them by their handlers, likely after you shedding the light on the matter.”

Haynes, we’ve been assured by associates who know him well, does not make a move without “Albany approval.” But with the defamation lawsuit, Team RIOC might’ve stepped too far over the line.

Firing the whistleblowers soon after their complaints went public was not standard policy. As former RIOC CEO Susan Rosenthal said in her own lawsuit, Cuomo’s Albany handlers told her, “We don’t fire people. We move them.”

In fact, according to the whistleblower lawsuit, Haynes and his executive team did move them around, but it was inept. The chaos made them more resolute, and they filed official complaints with the Inspector General and others.

They say they were fired when Haynes got wind of it through Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, another defendant in the case.

The Defamation Claims

Aroused by a lawsuit accusing Haynes, Robinson, Human Resources boss Tijuana Sharpe and Haynes’s longtime pal, COO Altheria Jackson of numerous instances of misconduct, RIOC countered aggressively.

“YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED that the nature of this action is defamation, defamation per se, breach of fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty.” – RIOC lawsuit against the whistleblowers.

Although RIOC never disclosed any details, its sole basis seemed like retaliation against their lawsuit.

It was soap opera-ish and juvenile in the eyes of many.

But Spencer-EL, Smith and Cerone never blinked. And in May, Haynes and his team sucked wind: Their lawsuit with its defamation claims was “…discontinued as against defendants Erica Spencer-El, Amy
Smith, and Jessica Cerone, without prejudice and without costs to any party…”

There was no additional explanation.

See copies of both RIOC’s initial claim and its withdrawal below. But don’t expect much detail. RIOC’s in bunker mode, after all.


As some observed, Haynes’s authority has dwindled at RIOC. And it appears that Hochul’s handlers sent in a barely disguised snitch who keeps and eye on him. Against his will, several of his decisions – like the astounding fee hikes for Sportspark – were promptly reversed.

Whether or not this is another incidence is not known. But sucking wind is real, and legally, Haynes and his executive team are doing that right now.

A RIOC motion for dismissal remains active. The Daily will keep you posted.

The Docs…

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