A Texas plumber has filed a lawsuit against a car dealership after a used truck he traded in showed up on the front lines in Syria being used by Islamist fighters, with the logo and phone number of his company, Mark-1 Plumbing, still visible on the doors.
After images of the truck appeared online, the plumber, Mark Oberholtzer of Galveston County, claims he lost business and received hundreds of threats that accused him of being a terrorist sympathizer. Oberholtzer is seeking more than $1 million in damages, in a lawsuit filed last week, according to his lawyer, Craig Eiland. A copy of the lawsuit was provided to The New York Times.
Oberholtzer’s truck began its strange journey from fixing leaky pipes in suburban Texas to the Syrian battlefield in 2013.
In October of that year, the lawsuit said, Oberholtzer handed over the 2005 Ford F-250 truck to AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway in Houston as part of a trade-in deal for a newer model.
As the paperwork was being completed, Oberholtzer’s son started peeling off the decal on the truck that showed the phone number and name of the company, but the salesman told him to stop because it would harm the paint and said it would be removed later, the lawsuit said.
According to the lawsuit, the dealer sold the truck at auction in November 2013, and it was exported from Houston to Mersin, Turkey, the following month.
From Turkey, it apparently made its way to Syria and wound up being adapted to carry an anti-aircraft gun in its flatbed manned by jihadi fighters, the lawsuit said.
Oberholtzer apparently thought little else of it. But in December 2014, images of the truck and the weapon being fired were published on social media. The lawsuit included one such example, taken from the account of a writer in Illinois who reports on jihadist groups.
Oberholtzer’s secretary called him on Dec. 17, 2014, and told him there were news stories about it. Coverage started to spread, including a widely viewed segment, as the lawsuit notes, on “The Colbert Report,” which made light of it.
“That country is going down the toilet,” Stephen Colbert, the host, said referring to Syria. “But for the first time, they know who to call to unclog it.”
By the end of that day, the lawsuit said, there were thousands of harassing and threatening phone calls to Oberholtzer’s office and other phone numbers with accusations that he supported terrorists. His staff and family members have also been subject to threatening calls, Eiland said.
Oberholtzer said his business has suffered. Department of Homeland Security and FBI agents met with him and advised him to protect himself, the lawsuit said. He started carrying a handgun.
In September, after excerpts from the Colbert segment aired during an Emmy Awards ceremony, the calls to Oberholtzer flared up again, averaging 100 to 200 every day, the lawsuit said.
Nobody answered a phone call to the dealership Monday. Oberholtzer could not be reached either, but his lawyer, Eiland, said in a telephone interview that the family’s plumbing company, which has been in operation since 1984 and was also named as a plaintiff in the case, was still getting threats as news of the lawsuit spread.
According to Eiland, one of the callers said: “How can you call yourself American if you are supplying vehicles to ISIS?”