Former legislator ordered to pay $4.3M in defamation case

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma jury has ordered a former state legislator to pay $4.3 million to an insurance company in a defamation case.

The defamation charge arose because Wayne Pettigrew, who was a director at First Trinity Financial Corp. until he left the company in 2013, issued a news release after his departure calling for an investigation into the company and its CEO related to stock purchases.

Pettigrew alleged CEO Gregg Zahn violated the law or illegally used insider status when he placed 130,000 shares with family members so he could buy them back for 10 cents per share following his divorce. Pettigrew also accused Zahn of being vice president of a company in Montana that was cited with multiple charges of securities fraud and alleged that criminal proceedings also were brought against Zahn.

A jury found Pettigrew breached his fiduciary duties to First Trinity and defamed the company and Zahn, The Oklahoman ( ) reported.

"The last four years since Mr. Pettigrew's press release have been extremely difficult for me because of the misinformation that was communicated to my board of directors, the company's shareholders and the hundreds of people I deal with on a day-to-day basis," Zahn said in a statement.

First Trinity was awarded $800,000, and Zahn was awarded $3.5 million. The jury said Pettigrew intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon Zahn.

"For both the company and Mr. Zahn, this is a vindication for what Mr. Pettigrew said in the press release," said Zahn's attorney, Keith Ward. "The jury and the trial court each did a good job. I'm confident the appeals court will not reverse the decision at all."

Pettigrew said his attorneys are preparing an appeal.


Information from: The Oklahoman,

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