Photo: Lance Fisher / Flickr, CC
A second worker at Lamar Advertising, one of the nation’s largest provider of outdoor media, has admitted poisoning and chopping down trees that block its billboards, according to deposition testimony obtained by Business Insider. The worker also testified that his regional manager ordered the policy in the Tallahassee, Fla., area.
Lamar’s war against trees that block its billboards came to light last year, when former Lamar employee Robert Barnhart sued the company in a whistleblower action, alleging he was forced to trespass on private property and either poison or use a machete on trees whose branches blocked billboard sight lines.
Barnhart alleged he drove an unmarked truck around Tallahassee carrying a 55-gallon drum of poison to do the work.
In a deposition taken April 4, however, a college of Barnhart’s Chris Oaks, named regional supervisor Chip LaBorde as the Lamar manager who ordered the tree-killing policy. LaBorde has since died of cancer, he testified.
Oaks added that he did the “hit-and-run” poisonings because he was scared for his job. LaBorde had jokingly threatened to shoot him if it didn’t get done Oaks testified:”I just want to get it clear that none of this was me. I did not want to do any of this.”
He later added, “I was just doing what I was told.”
The consequences for Lamar are potentially severe. In a separate Florida case, a grand jury investigation proposed that another billboard company, Bill Salter Outdoor Advertising, be ordered to pay millions in damages for illegally chopping down 2,000 trees that blocked its Florida billboards.
According to grand jury documents and other court papers obtained by B.I. this week, the fine could be between $1 and $4 million. Salter paid Eubanks Tree Service $260,000 to cut them down, the grand jury said in a presentment letter.
The scale of Salter’s activities, coupled with the Lamar case, suggest that it is not a coincidence that trees next to roadside billboards get frequently toppled, even when they’re on private property.
In the Lamar deposition, plaintiff lawyer Steven Andrews hinted that he had “evidence that this practice was going on both in Valdosta and other Lamar regional sites that were under the supervision of LaBorde,” and that Lamar now may have drawn the attention of a different grand jury investigation.
Andrews declined to comment for this story; Lamar did not return a message seeking comment.
On the following pages we have excerpted testimony from Oaks, who after 2004 functioned as Lamar’s secret, on-again, off-again tree assassin, he claims.
In this part of the deposition, Lamar employee Chris Oaks says he, his colleague Robert Barnhardt and their boss, Chip LaBorde, all knew about the tree killing program.
Oaks alleges that he and LaBorde knew it was illegal to kill trees without permission, but that LaBorde laughed and threatened to kill him if he didn't do it.
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