For workers at Super Car Service, the taste of revenge was bittersweet.
A Van Nuys Superior Court judge awarded the North Hollywood-based charter transit firm and two of its employees about $21,000 for business losses suffered following an unofficial "sting" operation staged by its competitor, Valley Cab Co.
The sting, in which Valley Cab employees placed seven Super Car drivers under citizen's arrest, was perhaps the strangest chapter in a long, bitter rivalry between the two San Fernando Valley companies.
Ivik Sarkasian, president of Super Car, on Tuesday applauded the decision by Judge Marvin D. Rowen to force his competitor to pay for damages. But he said his company deserves much more--$560,000 to be exact.
Super Car's business dropped by about 20% because of a mean-spirited campaign that Valley Cab launched to drive his company out of business, he said.
"They were bad-mouthing us in the newspapers," he said. "They went to the hotels and started to bad-mouth us. . . . It took us months to get our business back."
George Piedra, Valley Cab director of operations, said he doesn't know whose idea it was to stage the sting operation. But he said there was never an effort to tarnish the company's reputation.
"I've got better things to worry about other than Super Car," he said.
In his Nov. 26 decision, Rowen ordered Valley Cab to pay $20,235 to Super Car and $350 each to Kenneth Rizzell and Mesfin Desta, two drivers arrested in the sting.
Super Car's opportunity to collect damages came after Rowen dismissed a Valley Cab lawsuit that accused Super Car of engaging in unfair business practices.
Valley Cab, which has the city of Los Angeles' exclusive taxi franchise in the Valley, sued Super Car in 1989, alleging that the charter carrier was illegally operating as a taxi cab company by picking up patrons who hailed its drivers on the street.
Super Car, which does about 75% of its business in the Valley, has a state permit to be a charter carrier and is allowed only to pick up passengers by appointment.
To prove that Super Car drivers were illegally stealing passengers, Valley Cab employees and an off-duty police officer tried to lure Super Car drivers into picking them up off street corners, a taxi-like service not allowed under the company's permit, a lawyer for Super Car said.
Sarkasian said all seven drivers who were arrested in the sting operation have quit because of the trauma they suffered in the incident. The city attorney's office never filed charges against any of the drivers.
In a statement accompanying the claim for damages, Desta, a recent emigrant from Ethiopia, said he was badly shaken by the arrest.
On Jan 8, 1989, Desta said his dispatcher told him to pick up a passenger at Victory Boulevard and Woodman Avenue in Van Nuys.
After driving the passenger to his destination, the Airtel Plaza Hotel near Van Nuys Airport, Desta said the passenger and a man who identified himself as a police officer told him that he was under arrest. Desta said he was then forced into a waiting car, where a second Super Car driver was being held. He said he and the other driver were taken to the Van Nuys police station.
"I was very much upset by the arrest and being marched into a police station as a common criminal, to say nothing of the fear that, since I was not a citizen, an arrest could result in my being deported back to Ethiopia," he said in the statement.