|Tuesday, May 14
Tearful jewelry salesman apologizes for error
NEW YORK -- A St. Louis jewelry salesman tearfully apologized Tuesday for telling Penthouse magazine that his topless videotape pictures of a fashion designer's daughter-in-law were of tennis star Anna Kournikova.
Frank Ramaesiri, dabbing his eyes with a tissue, said he believed he was right until he spotted his true subject, 28-year-old Judith Soltesz-Benetton, in U.S. District Court, where he was summoned to testify.
"I'm very sorry. I made a mistake," Ramaesiri said after Judge Denny Chin asked him if he still believed he had videotaped the tennis star several years ago on South Beach in Miami, Fla. "I'm probably the last to know."
Last week, Penthouse magazine apologized for misidentifying the pictures in its June issue.
The testimony came during an unusual day of courtroom theater. First came the apology. Later, the judge studied the Penthouse pictures as the magazine's publisher, Bob Guccione, defended the likenesses of each woman's wristwatch, freckles and the "attitude of the pinkie," as in the direction they like to point their smallest fingers.
Soltesz-Benetton, the daughter-in-law of fashion designer Luciano Benetton, shook her head when Ramaesiri said he believed she was Kournikova because she acted like a celebrity who wanted to be alone, she seemed Russian and she had a black leather handbag.
The hearing resulted from Soltesz-Benetton's $10 million lawsuit, which demands a stop to distribution of the magazine.
The judge had issued a temporary order stopping the publisher from delivering additional copies of the magazine, though most of its distribution had already reached homes and newsstands. He also blocked the posting of the photographs on a magazine Web site.
Kournikova, 20, has filed a lawsuit against General Media Communications Inc., owner and operator of Penthouse.
The judge said he was interested in the state of mind of those at the magazine who decided to publish the pictures alongside a story about Kournikova. He must decide whether the magazine violated Soltesz-Benetton's rights in a brazen effort to advertise itself and make money.
Ramaesiri said he had examined the pictures carefully and was convinced the woman on the beach was Kournikova.
Guccione agreed, saying he spent nearly a week comparing the photographs of Soltesz-Benetton lifted from a videotape to numerous pictures of Kournikova, many of them on the Internet.
"I wanted to satisfy myself, not just go on what the photographer said," Guccione said.
When the publisher's lawyer asked him if he had ever misidentified a subject in the 36 years he has chosen each picture for his monthly magazine, he replied, "Not once, ever."
Ramaesiri testified that he believed he had taken the photographs two years ago, though he said he did not have any receipts or other evidence to prove he was there.
He said he telephoned the magazine in late January to say he had the pictures and was immediately put through to Guccione's office.
A day later, he said, he was flown to New York and met with Guccione in his town house.
The hearing was scheduled to resume Wednesday.