Bobby Salazar files defamation lawsuit against Fresno attorney

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Well-known salsa maker and restaurant owner Robert 'Bobby' Salazar is filing a defamation lawsuit against a Fresno attorney.

It stems from a GoFundMe account created by the attorney earlier this year.

It claimed hours after Bobby Salazar was served with a discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit from a former employee, that employee's vehicles were set on fire.

In a newly filed lawsuit, Salazar said he has been exposed to "hatred", "contempt", and "ridicule".

He claims it started when a Fresno attorney put out a press release and created a GoFundMe for a woman who used to work at the Bobby Salazar Restaurant in Fresno's Tower District.

The lawsuit claims attorney Brian Whelan intentionally defamed Salazar and interfered with his prospective business.

In June, Whelan created a GoFundMe account for Hilda Lopez after her family's cars were set on fire.

Whelan is representing Lopez in an ongoing lawsuit against Salazar.

Whelan told Action News in June Lopez did not receive rest and meal breaks and was punished for being pregnant while working at the restaurant.

"As punishment for complaining in writing, which she did via text, she was sent to another restaurant to clean the bathrooms and she was ultimately not allowed to return to work, which is a violation of the law," said Whelan.

Whelan said hours after Salazar was served with the lawsuit, Lopez's cars were set on fire.

Whelan claims a similar incident happened last year while he was representing a different former employee of Salazar.

In a legal filing for the case, Whelan claimed shortly after a witness's declaration was submitted, the witness's car was "fire bombed using an accelerant".

In that filing, Whelan also claimed his office was a target in August 2020 when it was "fire bombed with the same method as what (the witness) experienced" after someone threw a Molotov cocktail at his office window, damaging it.

In the newly filed lawsuit against Whelan, it claims Salazar "had no involvement with those events."

The lawsuit claims Whelan's press release and GoFundMe page caused a "surge of media coverage".

It states in an interview with Action News Whelan "provided further comment, further disparaging Mr. Salazar" by saying, "Just to be clear, I'm giving the facts as they exist and people can connect the dots for themselves. So the facts are, these series of events have taken place associated with lawsuits that I'm involved in and, most recently, the facts are that a lawsuit was filed and it was served on Mr. Salazar and, within 9 hours, all three of the cars are blown up."

The lawsuit claims the press release from Whelan caused a substantial drop in restaurant tickets and salsa sales, claiming "regular customers have boycotted (Salazar's) businesses because of (Whelan's) false statements of fact."

The lawsuit asks "for an injunction that requires (Whelan) to cease making false statements about (Salazar)" and award compensatory, consequential and incidental damages in an amount to be proven at trial.

Action News reached out to Salazar's attorney for comment, but did not hear back.

We also reached out to Whelan who chose not to comment.

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