February 19, 2010

Allegedly Labeled “Terrorist,” Iranian-American Businessman Sues for Defamation

Washington, DC – “I can’t believe you are buying from that terrorist. He is from Iraq, and he is funneling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother,” a car salesman from Bob Tyler Toyota allegedly stated to a customer after learning they had decided to buy from Eastern Shore Toyota, according to a lawsuit recently filed by the Iranian-American owner of the latter.

Shawn Esfahani, owner and manager of Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, AL, is suing BobTyler Toyota in Pensacola, FL and a sales manager there, Fred Keener, for slander and defamation. The lawsuit alleges Bob Tyler Toyota and certain employees willfully spread false and malicious information amongst the local community about Esfahani and his dealership.

When a different couple who had previously bought a Toyota from Bob Tyler but were considering purchasing a second car from Eastern Shore announced their decisionto Keener, he told them that “Eastern Shore Toyota was ‘from the Middle East, and he is helping fund the insurgents there and is also laundering moneyfor them.'”

Locals who frequented both dealerships told Eastern Shore staff that they frequently overheard Keener and a salesman, Joe Carp, make “outrageously false claims that Esfahani and/or Eastern Shore Toyota are engaged in illegal activity, are terrorists, or otherwise support terrorist organizations,” as stated in the lawsuit. Initially, Esfahani had written letters asking them to stop, to no avail.

According to the lawsuit, Esfahani has had a long and successful career of selling Toyotas in the South Eastern US. However, when he opened his own dealership in Daphne, his business struggled to take off, despite his unparalleled methods.

The lawsuit describes Esfahani’s journey from his youth in Tehran to fleeing the country during the 1979 Revolution after many of his friends and family were persecuted. Esfahani was educated in Oklahoma and now lives in Alabama.




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