At some point in the last month or so, a series of billboards went up in and around Philadelphia, proclaiming Gary Barbera “Man of the Year,” an award bestowed upon Barbera by Philly Sport magazine. The billboard pictured here can be seen high above Aramingo Avenue in Kensington, above an Exxon gas station.
You know Gary Barbera, of course, especially if you spend any time at all listening to the radio. “Is Barbera’s on the Boulevard the best?” asks the guy on KYW. “Boy, I guess.”
Often, these Gary Barbera radio ads utilize a screaming voice. Just listen:
But there are three things that you may not know about Gary Barbera.
#1: Gary Barbera is a convicted tax felon.
After an extensive investigation by the Internal Revenue Service in the late 2000s, Barbera pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return, a felony. He was ordered to pay nearly $150,000 in restitution, fines and interest, and he was sentenced to house arrest and three years' probation.
#2: Gary Barbera is an enemy of Philadelphia Police.
Late in 2011, Barbera started using the photos of dead Philadelphia cops on his billboards. Barbera HQ told the Daily News that the billboards were a "salute" to the fallen cops. But Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby called the billboards "outrageous." They were quickly taken down.
#3: Gary Barbera apparently doesn't sell cars anymore.
"Gary Barbera has nothing to do with the dealerships whatsoever," insists Thomas Hessert, the multi-millionaire who says he bought all of the assets of Gary Barbera Enterprises and the trademarks associated with it in 2011. "Gary Barbera is not an employee or stockholder or anything whatsoever in this company."
Hessert says he has no idea what Barbera is doing now or what GaryBarberaCares.org (the website touted on the billboard) is, but admits that his company still uses the Barbera name to sell cars, because it is widely recognized in the region. Meanwhile, Barbera insists that he is still a partner in the dealerships. "I wouldn't know Gary Barbera if I saw him on the street," says Hessert.
So how does an ex-car salesman, Philly Police-loathed tax felon become Man of the Year? Enter Ted Beitchman, publisher of Philly Sport magazine. (Philly Sport is something of a mystery. Beitchman claims a circulation of 88,000, but we can't find a single person who reads it. And it's not Beitchman's first attempt at magazine publication. His previous mags RealPhilly and The Player were complete and utter flops.)
Beitchman is a, shall we say, colorful Philadelphia character. He once held a senior position in the Rendell mayoral administration. Since that time, he has been convicted of impersonating a state official and of, yep, tax evasion.
Beitchman says that he honored Barbera with the Man of the Year award due to all of Barbera's charitable work, which is documented on the GaryBarberaCares.org website. (Hessert points out that he is the owner of the trademark "Barbera Cares.") When I asked Beitchman if Barbera would be taking out an ad in the magazine, he told me that it had been "discussed."
But who the hell put up these billboards? Barbera says he did not, and points to Beitchman and Philly Sport magazine. To that, Beitchman responds, "No, no, no, no, no. If we put up a billboard, it would be for the magazine. Not for Gary Barbera. I like Gary. But not that much."
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