A cross-town rivalry has gotten ugly for two California shops. Gene Crozat, owner of G&C Auto Body in Santa Rosa, is suing Kari Solem, owner of Advance Tech Collision, for libel and unfair business practices, among other allegations.
The Press Democrat reports that in July 2009, Solem, in e-mails sent to Farmers Insurance, other insurance companies and trade magazines, allegedly accused a G&C employee of being a drug dealer and claimed that Crozat used company time and money to bail the man out of jail. Crozat has a DRP with Farmers.
The lawsuit alleges that the first e-mail, sent only to a Farmers representative, said that G&C employee Wilbert Johnson was arrested with a pound of cocaine while driving a G&C vehicle.
"How is he REALLY getting the money for all of these ads???" the e-mail said, referencing Crozat.
Crozat told the newspaper that the Wilbert Johnson employed by G&C is not a drug dealer but a member of the choir at the Mormon church who doesn’t drink or smoke and has never been arrested.
Later, the same e-mail was forwarded to other insurance companies and automotive trade magazines. Solem’s lawyer claims that, without her knowledge, her then-boyfriend sent this second e-mail and a third e-mail that said the cocaine story was based on bad information from the Internet and that the whole incident was a "grave mistake."
Crozat, who owns three G&C shops, told BodyShop Business that it’s ridiculous to think his company would be involved with drugs.
"She says I’ve been able to build an enormous business because I’m a drug dealer and my family deals drugs," he said. "But my sons are Eagle Scouts, clean cut and hard-working."
Solem’s lawyer told the newspaper that his client has "no ill will" toward Crozat.
"(She) has testified that she considers him to be an excellent businessman and a positive influence on the automotive repair business," the attorney told the newspaper.
When asked during a deposition why she accused Crozat of being involved in the drug trade, Solem allegedly said, "If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck," Crozat told BSB.
A legal expert told the Press Democrat it may be tough to prove libel because the e-mails may be protected under freedom of speech. Plus, the author of the third e-mail apologized for the incident, possibly correcting any damage caused by the original e-mails. The third e-mail also admitted that the accusations were spurred by a family dispute between the author and Crozat.
"Jealousy can be an ugly thing, and some people don’t wear it well," Crozat told BSB. "Or you could use it as a thing to motivate you and make you work harder and do better."
In all, Crozat told the Press Democrat his businesses are doing fine, up 30 percent with plans to open a fourth store in Windsor. But he admitted he could be doing better if not for the e-mails accusing him of being involved in drug dealing. He told BSB he plans to stick with collision repair.
"I’ll tell you why I don’t want to be a drug dealer: I couldn’t take the pay cut," he said.
Read the original story from the Press Democrat