A Fresno RV dealership and three of its employees have been ordered to pay more than $4.5 million for defaming a competing dealership.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeff Hamilton concluded that Paul Evert's RV Country and three of its employees -- owner Paul Evert, vice president and general manager Charles Curtis and finance manager Aaron Lyon -- tried to put Bob Brewer's companies, which included Clovis RV and Fresno RV, out of business by spreading rumors they were under investigation by state regulators.
Clovis RV ultimately did close at the end of 2009.
In his initial ruling last October, Hamilton concluded that Fresno RV had been defamed and awarded the company $500,000 in damages. Last Friday, Hamilton awarded punitive damages: $4.08 million.
"It's ironic that the damage that Paul Evert's RV attempted to cause to Bob Brewer's company will ultimately cause more economic harm to Paul Evert's RV because the truth has come out about their fraudulent activities," Jeff Hammerschmidt, one of the attorneys who represented Fresno RV, said Tuesday.
Attorneys for Paul Evert's RV and its employees could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The case revolved around the actions of employee Lyon, who was fired by Paul Evert's RV Country in March 2007, then went to work for Clovis RV as finance manager.
Court documents gave this account:
While at Clovis RV, Lyon became romantically involved with the office manager, who later sought a restraining order against him. Lyon blamed Brewer for his break-up with her.
In July 2009, months after the office manager parted ways with him, Lyon abruptly quit Clovis RV. He told the office manager and another industry associate that that he was going to "take Bob Brewer down."
A month later, Lyon was back at Paul Evert's RV Country as a finance manager. Lyon was given an $8,500 "signing bonus" for returning to Evert's company -- something that was described in court records as unusual.
Lyon soon began spreading rumors among RV financing companies that Brewer's company was going out of business or was under investigation by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and that Brewer was going to jail.
Lyon also called the DMV and reported Brewer's company was engaging in massive bank fraud, according to the judge's ruling. Testimony during trial showed Lyon created the fraudulent documents that the DMV relied on to stage a raid at Brewer's Clovis business.
Lyon called Evert and general manager Curtis the day of the raid, and all three sat across the street at Hedrick's Chevrolet to watch the raid. Lyon admitted in court that he called local television stations under the instruction of Evert.
The day after the raid, Evert's RV Country made a $10,000 check out to Lyon.
No charges were filed as a result of the raid.
"It was overwhelmingly clear," Hamilton wrote in his ruling on the case, "that a plan was conceived with Curtis and Evert, during the most severe downturn in the economy since the Great Depression, to put (Paul Evert's RV Country's) largest competitor out of business."
Hammerschmidt, Brewer's attorney, said his client was pleased with the judge's ruling. "There is more than one way to achieve justice," Hammerschmidt said, "and this decision achieved justice for Bob Brewer."
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