As It Happens

Texas plumber launches lawsuit after militants in Syria shown using his old truck

A Texas plumber is suing a car dealer after pictures showed that one of his old company trucks now belongs to Islamist militants in Syria.

Aside from the machine gun mounted in the back, it looked exactly like the truck plumber Mark Oberholtzer used to drive around Texas to repair toilets. It even had the logo and phone number of his company, Mark-1 Plumbing, listed on the side.

The photos. however, also showed that Oberholtzer's truck was a long way from Texas.

It turns out the old company truck was being used by Islamist militants in Syria.

Since those images came out in 2013, Oberholtzer has been inundated with harassing phone calls. Now, the veteran plumber has decided to sue the dealer who bought the truck off him.

"He started getting threatening phone calls, calling him a jihadist and terrorist supporter, asking why he supplied trucks to Syrian terrorists," Craig Eiland, Oberholtzer's lawyer, tells As It Happens co-host Carol Off.

"He had no idea what they were talking about and then eventually somebody sent him the tweets and the internet traffic."

Eiland says Oberholtzer initially thought one of his friends was pulling a prank. But when U.S. Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation paid him a visit, he knew it was serious. Oberholtzer had no idea how his truck ended up in the hands of Islamist militants and struggled to answer their questions.

"According to the photographs that the jihadists or terrorists have put out, it's in Syria — at least that's what they say," Eiland explains. "He quit trying to explain it because people would just yell at him on the phone and didn't believe him."

What he learned is that there is no eraser on the internet- Craig Eiland

Only now have they started to piece together how the truck ended up in Syria. Eiland explains that Oberholtzer took the truck to AutoNation, a dealership in Houston, Texas, and traded it for a new vehicle.

"He was going to take the decals off the door and was told by the salesman, 'Don't do that, we'll do that,' because the dealership has a special solvent to take it off so that they don't scratch the paint." Eiland explains.

"Then, apparently, the dealership did not take it off."

Instead, according to Eiland, the dealership took the vehicle, complete with Oberholtzer's full company logo, phone number and his master plumber license, to an auction where it was sold and shipped to Turkey. After that transaction the details are unclear.

Screen grab from The Colbert Report. (The Colbert Report/Comedy Central)

Eiland says Oberholtzer hoped the threatening phone calls and social media comments would eventually stop. He trusted the story would fade out and his business would pick up. But when the story was picked up by The Colbert Report it took off, and he decided to take legal action against AutoNation for failing to remove the decals.

"What he learned is that there is no eraser on the internet," Eiland explains.

"He decided to do something to make the people responsible, stand up and say, 'Mark-1 Plumbing did not sell this vehicle to terrorists.'"

To hear the full interview please select the Listen audio link above.


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