August 16, 2003 12:00am
Stripper Defends Ben Afleck's Virtue
Source: E! Online
by: Joal Ryan
Unlikely Ally for J.Lo's Future Husband: A Stripper. Antonella Santini, better known to the patrons of a Canadian exotic-dance nightery as Felicia, has filed a libel and slander suit against the National Enquirer, charging that, contrary to the tab's headline-making reports, she did not get Gigli with Ben Affleck at the club last month.
The Enquirer and its reporters "acted reprehensibly and must be punished before they callously destroy another private person's life in their race to profit and sell tabloid magazines," Santini's lawsuit says.
Named in the complaint, filed this week in Los Angeles, are American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company, and journalists Alan Butterfield, Rick Egusquiza and Neil Blincow.
Tammy Morris, another stripper at Brandi's, "A high-class establishment which features all-nude dancing," per the suit, also is tagged as a defendant. Santini alleges Morris was paid $100,000 by the tab for a fabricated version of events that provided the basis for its salacious August 12 edition cover story, "Ben Cheats on J.Lo," and followup coverage.
On Friday, American Media responded to Santini's suit much as it responded to Affleck's legal threats: It said it stands by the story. "We expect to resolve this in our favor very quickly," the publisher said in a statement.
Affleck, who became engaged to Lopez last year, experienced the sum of all fiance's fears when the Enquirer reported he performed oral sex on two strippers at Brandi's Exotic Nightclub in Vancouver on July 17, the same night he and the future missus were seen acting all cute and couple-like on Dateline NBC.
Affleck admits to patronizing Brandi's with Hollywood homies Tara Reid, Christian Slater and Slater's wife, Ryan Haddon. He even joked about the visit on last Monday's Tonight Show.
"I did have the common sense to call Jennifer [before he went to the club] and say, 'I'm going to this place, it's kind of wacky,' " Affleck told host Jay Leno. "I told her it was a strip bar. She said she was cool."
Affleck was not cool with the Enquirer's account of the evening. His flack denounced the story as "total garbage." According to her lawsuit, Santini agrees with that assessment.
The article, citing reputed eyewitness accounts, said the Daredevil star pawed Santini and performed oral sex on her. The tab has reported Affleck "cheated" on Lopez with a total of three dancers, including Tammy "Portia" Morris.
Morris, the apparent source for the stories, the lawsuit asserts, is an "inherently unreliable and untrustworthy" stripper who flunked at least one lie-detector test administered by the Enquirer, and only passed another after taking the anti-anxiety drug Ativan.
A message left at Brandi's seeking comment from Morris was not immediately returned Saturday.
In defending its reporting, the Enquirer has touted that the lie-detector-tested reliability of its sources, even challenging Affleck to take a polygraph. (the actor's camp called the challenge "ridiculous.")
Santini is seeking unspecified damages for the August 12 and August 19 edition stories that suggest she "willingly prostituted for Affleck," even while "knowing that he was engaged to Jennifer Lopez (news)."
"The true story," her lawsuit states, is that Ben Affleck (news), "world-famous actor and celebrity," and would-be groom of Jennifer Lopez, "world-famous actor, singer and celebrity," looked, but didn't touch, during his stay at Brandi's.
Santini "did not engage in any sex acts with Affleck," the lawsuit says.
In its August 26 issue, the Enquirer claims Brandi's employees are under pressure to "cooperate" with Affleck's camp in a "massive cover-up attempt."
Santini objected to the story from the get-go, telling the New York Post shortly after the first article appeared that she and fellow dancers "did a little show," and that's all, for Affleck.
"Put it this way. Brandy, the owner of the club, was watching the whole thing on a monitor. The absolute rule is no contact. That's her liquor license on the line," Santini, ID'd as Felicia, said in the Post.
The Enquirer imbroglio has been the capper on a long, hot, seemingly lousy summer for the celeb couple known as Bennifer.
The same week the first tab story broke, Gigli, the pair's critically assailed hit-man movie, bombed. To date, the $54 million flick has grossed just $6 million.
Still, there's been no official word that their wedding is anything but on. In Saturday's Post, Affleck's rep says the couple continues to cohabitate, denying a report that Lopez has "kicked" Affleck out of their house.
One casualty of their cruel season appears to be Affleck's right to a rite of passage.
On the Tonight Show, Affleck said Lopez reacted to the tab stories by cracking, "It looks like you [just] had your bachelor party."