Truth, justice and the American Way in Lower Alabama

November 13, 2011 

They called it “Taliban Toyota.”

Yuk yuk chortle yeehaw drool snort. Hey, it ’uz just business.

Unfortunately for the jokester patriots at Bob Tyler Toyota in Pensacola, a jury failed to see the humor. A group of south Alabamians decided that car-lot jihad, in the form of unadulterated slander, isn’t exactly in the finest tradition of free enterprise.

Shawn Esfahani, owner of Headquarter Nissan here in Columbus, is also owner of Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Ala., where he got word that his principal competitor was using … well, some not exactly upstanding competitive tactics.

This might be crudely funny if we were talking “Used Cars” here -- Kurt Russell luring customers with money on a fishing line or strippers dancing on car hoods. According to Esfahani’s lawsuit, the boys at the Tyler dealership were more … well, imaginative.

News reports from the Mobile Press-Register and Reuters say Esfahani isn’t exactly a newcomer to the ins and outs, ups and downs, square dealing and sleazeballing of auto sales. He’s been doing it for most of the years since 1980, when he was 16 and fled Iran after the radicals’ takeover under the fanatical Ayatollah Khomeini. He went first to Spain, where he learned English, and then to America, where he became a U.S. citizen and made his living as a car salesman. He opened his first dealership, Eastern Shore Toyota, in 2007.

It’s a classic Coming to America success story. Except that the competition apparently saw profitability in spreading the word that it was something else.

According to the lawsuit, the sales manager at the Pensacola dealership told customers, among other things, that Esfahani was “helping fund the insurgents and is also laundering money for them,” and that Esfahani “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.”

Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

“It’s very hurtful,” Esfahani told the Press-Register. “When you live in this country, you can’t believe someone would accuse you of those things just to sell a car.”

Believe it, Shawn. The Middle East isn’t the only part of the world with indigenous snakes.

So he sued for slander. And last week, after less than three hours of deliberations in a suit between somebody named Esfahani and somebody named Tyler, a south Alabama jury came back with a decision: $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

If such a signal victory over toxic jingoistic idiocy could get the same kind of national publicity for the South as the antics of some of our goober governors, we might get a little credit for enlightenment down here.

The usual apologists for this kind of rock-bottom slime no doubt dismiss the jury verdict as “jackpot justice.” But if it doesn’t put that Pensacola snake pit out of business and the people responsible in bankruptcy, it’s not enough. Not even close.

Esfahani called the tactics that prompted his lawsuit “un-American.”

Love it. You just gotta love it.

Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; dnix@ledger-enquirer.com.

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