Texas plumber sues after firm's name appears on Syrian jihadist group vehicle
A plumber whose company pickup truck with logo and name clearly visible appeared in a photograph of a militant wielding an anti-aircraft weapon in Syria has sued the dealer he sold it to, saying the harassment it generated has damaged his business.
Mark Oberholtzer, the owner of Mark-1 Plumbing of Texas City, said he sold the pickup in October 2013 and was shocked to see the photo on social media.
Mark Oberholtzer said in a lawsuit seeking $1 million damages that he has been forced to carry a gun for protection and was grilled by investigators from the Department of Homeland security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The photo was tweeted in December 2014 by a group called the Ansar al-Deen front and describes the truck as being used against the Syrian government in Aleppo, the lawsuit said. The precise affiliation of the participants at the time of the photo was unclear.
"By the end of the day, Mark-1's office, Mark-1's business phone, and Mark's personal cell had received over 1,000 phone calls from around the nation," said the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Harris County State District Court in Houston.
The lawsuit said the largely harassing calls contained threats of violence, property damage, injury and even death. Some callers sang in Arabic and others yelled obscenities at whoever answered the telephone, it said.
The lawsuit said the plumbing company had sold up to 10 pickup trucks to different dealers in Texas with the common practice of removing decals or decorative stickers before their sale.
Oberholtzer's lawsuit said he sold the pickup to Charlie Thomas Ford, which does business as AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway in Houston. Dealer representatives told him they would take the stickers off because they had a better system for removing them without damaging the paint, it said.
Instead, the pickup was sold with decals and all and shipped to Turkey where it was obtained by militants, the lawsuit said.
A representative from the dealership did not immediately respond to inquiries about the suit on Monday. A spokesman for the parent company AutoNation responded on Monday.
"We feel it is very unfortunate that the customer is going through this," the AutoNation spokesman said. "This vehicle came to us, and was sent to the auction and the markings should have come off at the auction. That did not happen. We feel this is unfortunate."