Papa John’s founder slices up ad firm’s $6M ‘extort’ attempt

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter has claimed his spectacular ouster from the pizza chain last year was orchestrated by an advertising firm that was trying to extort $6 million from him — and now he claims that he has the tapes to prove it.

The embattled fast-food tycoon — who last year left the company’s board amid growing unrest over a leaked recording of a conference call in which he used the N-word — claimed in court papers filed this month that the May 2018 call was a setup by Laundry Service, an ad firm that had been doing business with Papa John’s.

Specifically, Schnatter — who has insisted from the start that the hubbub was the result of a plot against him — now claims his legal team has discovered the existence of a recording of Laundry Service executives speaking among themselves after Schnatter hung up from the infamous conference call on May 22, 2018.

According to a July 2018 Forbes report, Schnatter and the ad execs on the call were doing a role-playing exercise that included questions about racism. Asked how he would separate himself from racist groups online, Schnatter reportedly said that KFC founder Colonel Sanders never got backlash for using the N-word — comments that Schnatter later owned up to and said he regretted.

“There is no mistaking Laundry Service’s ill-intent,” the court filing adds, alleging that the ad execs plotted to “put Mr. Schnatter in front of a hostile interviewer in front of a live audience to make comments that would inevitably be misconstrued and used against him.”

The new filing has been redacted, and doesn’t contain any specific, smoking-gun excerpts from the recording. The tape was made by Tim Polder, a former Laundry Service employee who also gave a deposition about it, according to court documents.

Laundry Service argues that details about Polder’s deposition should remain sealed, but Schnatter’s lawyers are asking the court to unseal them to reveal “approximately six lines of testimony from the deposition” discussing that call, according to court papers.

Laundry Service, which is part of entertainment mogul Casey Wasserman’s media group, denied it leaked the recording. A spokesperson for Wasserman Media Group declined to comment on Friday.

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