A feud between Boulder waste oil recyclers has reached a legal conclusion after a libel suit and disparagement claims filed by recycOil, a recycling and biofuel company, were settled in its favor. The firm filed the former against Jennifer Hronkin, a Boulder biofuel advocate, for making false and defamatory statements about it, and the latter against Alexander Blane-Zimberg, alumni research and development director for CU Biodiesel.
Blane-Zimberg is a former employee of Sustainable Oil Service (SOS), another Boulder-based waste oil recycling company with which recycOil has a troubled history. Zane Kessler, a spokesman for recycOil, said Hronkin also has close ties with SOS.
The libel suit was filed last August in a Boulder County court, and last week the two sides reached an agreement stating that Hronkin would remove statements that recycOil had "misused government funds" and had been "charged with numerous counts of theft." Hronkin made these statements on the Meetup discussion board of the Boulder Biodiesel Co-op and in a May YouTube video.
Hronkin has agreed not to repost such statements and the settlement states she had no knowledge that recycOil misused government funds, had been charged with theft or filed complaints "for the purpose of intimidating or harassing its competitors," all of which she had previously stated online.
As for Blane-Zimberg, he posted a YouTube video last May in which he accused recycOil of stealing used vegetable oil from SOS and misusing government funds -- and he classified recycOil as a "criminal organization." He has also agreed to remove the video, and in a signed statement, he stated that he had no knowledge of recycOil, formerly known as Rocky Mountain Sustainable Enterprises, stealing from SOS or misused government funds.
"We're happy to have reached settlement on both of these cases," Kessler says. "As a small business, this has been a very difficult and costly process for our entire team. We're hopeful that these resolutions will help to dispel the misinformation that's been circulated about our company over the past year."
Kessler says recycOil lost some restaurant clients as a result of what Hronkin and Blane-Zimberg posted online and that the matter has had a negative effect on the company's reputation.
"Both parties, one of whom is a former employee of Sustainable Oil Service, and the other a vocal biofuels advocate with very close ties to that same company, have been out there spreading misinformation about our small business," Kessler says. "We want folks to know that and we want to move forward from here in the spirit of healthy competition so that we can all continue to serve to the betterment of our environment and the communities we serve."
Hronkin and Blane-Zimberg's former accusations of theft echo those of SOS founder, Kurt Lange, who claims recycOil has stolen $120,000 worth of used vegetable oil and barrels from his company. Lange has filed six police reports accusing recycOil of theft from restaurants and hotels up and down the Front Range, but no formal charges have been filed based on those reports.
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Kessler noted that SOS is not the only waste oil recycling company that has been the victim of theft. He says recycOil "suffered thousands and thousands of dollars of loss attributable to theft every year," he says. "At the core of some of these misinformed and defamatory statements were allegations of theft. We've been the victim of theft just as much as everybody else and I think that's important to note. We're not out there accusing individual competitors of stealing oil, even though we are suffering significant losses as a result of theft."
CEO of recycOil Aaron Perry was found guilty last September of third-degree trespassing on SOS property. This verdict stemmed from charges filed after a September 2010 incident in which Perry and former recycOil Vice President Adam Hall visited SOS facilities after hours and asked employees several questions about the business. Perry was found not guilty of harassment and a misdemeanor trespassing charge in the same trial.
Hronkin and Blane-Zimburg's references to misuse of government funds refers to two grants recycOil won from the USDA and the Colorado Department of Agriculture; recycOil was awarded these grants mostly to help build a biodiesel plant in Morgan County. But since the scope of that project changed, no government money was actually given to recycOil. Perry says his company is now planning on building a biodiesel plant closer to Denver.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Oil wars! A Boulder oil recycling firm accuses a competitor of trespassing and theft."