A jury in Alabama awarded an Iranian-born car dealer $7.5 million on Tuesday. Shawn Esfahani won the damages in a lawsuit against a competitor in Florida who he says painted him to be a terrorist.
Originally asked for $28 million
Esfahani, who owns Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Ala., originally asked for $28 million in his suit against Pensacola, Fla.-based Bob Tyler Toyota. He was eventually awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages and a another $5 million in punitive damages, according to Reuters.
Characterized as ‘Taliban Toyota’
According to the suit, Esfahani said that Bob Tyler Toyota sales staff tried to scare customers away from his dealership by calling it the “Taliban Toyota.”
Accused of supporting Taliban
Bob Tyler sales manager Fred Kenner was named in the suit. It alleges that Kenner told at least one couple in 2009 that Esfahani was “helping fund the insurgents there” and that he launders money for the rebel groups.
One salesman was accused of telling customers that Esfahani used company income to put American soldiers in jeopardy, even though Esfahani is Iranian and not Iraqi. The unnamed salesman is quoted in the suit:
“(He) is funneling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there and what you’re doing (if you buy from Esfahani) is helping kill my brother.”
A naturalized U.S. citizen
Esfahani left Iran in 1980 following the Islamic coup that toppled the Shah of Iran and put Islamic extremists in control. He is a naturalized citizen of the U.S. He opened his Toyota dealership in 2007.
Esfahani called the slander “un-American,” and told Reuters that he felt vindicated by the court’s decision.
“The feeling I received in the courtroom for the truth to come out was worth a lot more than any money anybody can give me. … This case didn’t take aim at just Mr. Tyler. It was intended to address any other business that resorts to those kinds of actions to win at their game unfairly.”