EarthQuest's Don Holbrook Threatens to Sue Critics into Submission
We couldn't help but laugh our asses off at the latest move by EarthQuest "consultant" Don Holbrook to silence two of his loudest critics: Last week, he hired an Ohio attorney to send cease and desist letters to Garland, Texas, resident Heather Dobrott, who runs a site called realscam.com, and to a former official of the town of Parumph, Nevada, where Holbrook has done consulting work.
We have a copy of the letter sent to Dobrott. In bold all-caps (that's how you know a lawyer's not fuckin' around), Sue Seeberger gives the self-described scambuster two choices: stop writing "defamatory" things about Holbrook, or else "provide me with complete evidence of the truth of each and every statement and comment that you have posted anywhere on the internet."
The funny thing is, that's exactly what the Houston Press and others have been wanting from Holbrook: evidence for the weird stuff he says. Yet it's apparently only a one-way street: Holbrook can make outrageous, unsubstantiated claims about his business acumen, and no one else can question him.
For example, Holbrook claims to have "worked on over 100 projects representing over $1 billion...in capital investment, generating more than 50,000 jobs in his nearly 20 years in the profession." Holbrook has never responded to requests from both the Tribune and the Press to identify these elusive projects and jobs.
News articles and public documents from his brief economic development agency stints in Arizona, Minnesota and Indiana don't suggest anything close to that. When we tried to find out more from these agencies, we were left hanging. The Lake Havasu City Partnership for Economic Development, which didn't renew its contract with Holbrook after two years, didn't want to tell us anything about him; no one from the Wayne County Economic Development Corporation or Red Wing Port Authority wanted to talk, either -- not a surprise, considering how he threatened to sue folks associated with the former and actually did sue the latter.
There's also the bizarre claim that he "launched the first economic development Web site in the world in 1991." Really? In 1991? For a guy whose dead-link-littered personal site looks like it was created by a distracted eighth-grader circa 1999, we're somewhat skeptical that Holbrook was that far ahead of the curve. Could he at least provide someone with a screen cap?
Then there's the curious matter of the 2010 itinerary of the National Rural Economic Developers Association's conference, in which Holbrook is described as being "awarded a federal grant from the Obama Administration's Center for Rural Affairs to prepare a report highlighting best practices in creating green collar jobs across Rural America [sic]."
We're not aware of any such government entity, and when we asked a representative at the NREDA where in the world they got this information, she told us that the NREDA just prints whatever comes their way without bothering to verify. (The only Center for Rural Affairs we could find was a Nebraska-based nonprofit.)
Oddly, no grant money is listed on Holbrook's Nevada bankruptcy filing from late 2011, which is not to be confused with his Arizona bankruptcy filing from 2010. And, for that matter, we haven't found a copy of this report anywhere. (And we can't very well request a report from a government office that doesn't appear to exist.)
And that's one of the things Dobrott has been asking about -- why Holbrook's income listed on the 2011 bankruptcy doesn't jibe with his EarthQuest income, as reported by the Tribune . For example, according to the Tribune' s reporting, Holbrook received $773,963.43 from bonds issued by the East Montgomery County Improvement District. That doesn't appear on his bankruptcy filing. Holbrook also claims to be a co-owner of a California winery, Red Zeppelin, but that ownership interest also doesn't appear on the bankruptcy forms.
In an e-mail to Hair Balls, Dobrott stated that "As Mr. Holbrook and his attorney have failed to identify even a single false statement of fact made by me and have not refuted anything I published, I can't see that there is anything worthwhile to discuss with them."
Former Parumph Town Board member Frank Maurizio also received a C&D letter from Seeburger, although he told Hair Balls he hasn't opened the envelope and he doesn't ever plan on doing so. However, he told us that a Parumph reporter received a copy of the letter directly from Holbrook. (We feel saddened that he didn't bother sending us a copy as well.)
Holbrook apparently felt libeled by Maurizio's recent column in the Pahrump Valley Times, where he likens Holbrook to con artist Harold Hill of The Music Man.
As far as the cease and desist letters go, we've seen these types of bullying tactics before -- and in fact, Holbrook used the same go-nowhere strategy when he worked at an economic development agency in Indiana. When some folks there openly questioned some of his expenditures of the public's money, he had another attorney warn them about making "untrue and malicious statements."
Trying to silence someone who questions how their own tax dollars are being spent is one thing -- it's just a dick move; but the Seeburger and Holbrook Express takes a turn for Kook Town when Seeburger warns Dobrott that she may be committing tortious interference and might possibly be engaging in a "civil conspiracy" to destroy Holbrook's reputation and career.
We wonder if this civil conspiracy is responsible for two bankruptcies in four years, the latest of which lists over $147,000 in back taxes; a lawsuit brought by the City of Huber Heights (Ohio) for fraud and misrepresentation; the overdue attention on EarthQuest, a money pit riddled with conflicts of interest that's tied to a guy selling bottles of magic water; and concern from some officials in Parumph.
Boy, we wish we could hire a lawyer to compel Holbrook to provide "complete evidence of the truth of each and every statement" he's made. According to the Holbrook handbook, that's what it takes to get the truth out of somebody. Silly us; all we thought it took was basic honesty.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.