CAR DEALERSHIP FILES SUIT AGAINST NET COORDINATOR

By: HUGH R. MORLEY on December 2, 2009
Original Article: RECORD, THE (HACKENSACK, NJ)

Dec. 2 – A Clifton Ford dealership that hired an Internet coordinator to boost its online marketing strategy says he instead hurt the company’s image by vandalizing the Web site.

A lawsuit filed by Fette Ford Inc. against the former coordinator, Robert Brandoff, says he used insider knowledge and passwords learned on the job to deface the Web site after the company terminated his employment.

Brandoff, of Pearl River, N.Y., posted “numerous expletives” and defamatory statements about the dealership on the site, disconnected e-mail links and altered car prices, the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Newark says.

The changes prompted some customers to visit the dealership looking to buy vehicles at the altered prices, the suit says. In one case, according to the suit, Brandoff changed an advertisement to offer a 2007 Mustang Saleen Coupe at $40,000 less than the manufacturer’s recommended price, for $19,995.

As a result, the dealership suffered “great financial and economic injury in amounts that are continuing,” the suit says, adding that Brandoff “significantly and irreparably damaged” the company’s reputation.

Brandoff could not be reached for comment. Fette Ford and its attorney, Jack T. Spinella of Paramus, did not return a request for comment.

The suit accuses Brandoff of fraud, violating the state Computer Related Offenses Act and conversion, or taking ownership of someone else’s property.

The suit asks the court to stop the former coordinator from doing further damage, and seeks compensation.

Fette Ford says it hired Brandoff in February 2008, after Internet sales increased the year before. The dealership terminated him 10 months later, according to the suit, which gives no reason for his departure.

Six months after that, and three days after Brandoff visited Fette Ford and talked with former co-workers, a customer told the dealership that its Web site carried defamatory statements about the company and displayed altered prices, the suit says.

Four months later, the dealership discovered that numerous e-mail links on the site had been changed, effectively shutting down features that were the “backbone” of the marketing campaign — such as those that enabled visitors to ask for information and price quotes, the suit says.

Fette Ford investigated the changes, and referred the matter to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. Investigators there identified the Internet address of the person who made the changes and subpoenaed records, confirming that it was Brandoff, the suit says.

The Prosecutor’s Office said it referred the case to the Clifton Police Department. A spokesman there said the department does not expect to file charges.