Barbera billboard ads subtracted goodwill

A Barbera's spokesman said the dealership would the billboards after the FOP and the Philadelphia Police Department complained that the ads were in poor taste and that no one had asked for permission to use the photos or their emblems.
A Barbera's spokesman said the dealership would the billboards after the FOP and the Philadelphia Police Department complained that the ads were in poor taste and that no one had asked for permission to use the photos or their emblems. (STEPHANIE FARR / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: December 13, 2011

IS FOP President John McNesby PO'd at Gary Barbera? Boy, I guess.

On Friday, McNesby and the Philadelphia Police Department began receiving calls that the well-known Philly car dealer had used the photos of fallen Philadelphia police officers, the department emblem and the Fraternal Order of Police emblem in his billboard advertisements.

"Somebody called me and said 'What are we doing?' " McNesby said. "So, I rolled out there and when I looked, I just couldn't believe what I saw."

The billboards, one of which was spotted at Ashburner Street near Torresdale Avenue in Holmesburg yesterday, read: "We will always remember because Barbera cares."

Underneath are the photos of officers Charles Cassidy, Isabel Nazario and John Pawlowski and sergeants Patrick McDonald, Timothy Simpson and Stephen Liczbinski, all of whom died in the line of duty between 2007 and 2009. Also included are the dates of the officers' deaths and the manner in which they died.

The billboards tell readers to "Make donations to the FOP survivors fund."

McNesby said that no one from Barbera's contacted the FOP about the billboards beforehand and that Barbera has "never donated one dime" to the fund.

"We don't use our families for stuff like that; it's unheard of; it's outrageous," McNesby said. "We don't use our families as pawns in anything."

Gene Barbera, sales manager at Barbera's, said the four or five billboards that had been put up were to be taken down by 6 p.m. yesterday. He said that as soon as he found out the billboards had upset anyone, he called to have them taken down.

"This thing got way out of proportion," he said. "This has never been an advertisement; this was a salute."

Barbera said the last thing he wanted to do was offend officers or their families. Liczbinski's son used to work for the dealership, he said. "I will call anybody to give personal apologies," Barbera said. "There was no thought process at all as to the intent of putting this up besides a salute. I'll swear to that."

Police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said the department had not authorized Barbera's to use its emblem. He said he'd fielded calls about the billboards, including some from the slain officers' families.

"It's in bad taste to use fallen officers for an ad campaign, for whatever reason, without getting prior approval," Evers said.

Barbera's has gotten in trouble before for using other people's images in its ads. Rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent filed federal lawsuits against the company in 2005, after their faces showed up in ads that ran in the Daily News. They settled out of court on undisclosed terms.

McNesby said he has no plans to sue, as long as all of the billboards are taken down.

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