No matter how much we love their steel-building and designing talents, or if we admire their business skills, there’s no easy way to talk about the Teutul family without addressing their many dramas on- and off-screen.
The personal and legal problems faced by the Teutuls are hardly forgettable at all, gaining them the infamous title of one of the most scandal-prone families om reality TV. Starting with the several lawsuits against them, a years-long family beef, problems with other “American Chopper” cast members, and even serious financial issues involving them, it’s fair to say that the Teutuls have had it rough ever since their rise to fame almost two decades ago.
So what are the most commented-on and scandalous personal and legal problems the Teutuls have faced? Are their businesses still active, or have those issues finally taken a toll on their finances? Keep with us to discover all!
The Ironworks Lawsuit
Unbeknownst to many, the Teutuls grew their fortune through their first business O.C. Iron Works, headed by Paul Sr. until he left to found Orange County Choppers in 1999.
Although O.C Iron Works seemed to be doing well under the guidance of Dan Teutul, in 2005 the company surprisingly filed for bankruptcy and the family went on to manage Orange County Ironworks LLC full-time, which had been established the previous year. Things took a turn for the worst in 2007, when the Teutuls’ former associates accused the family of moving the old business’ ‘equipment, employees, accounts and other assets’ to the new one without compensation, in an alleged ‘scheme’ which left the creditors with nothing to hold onto after the company’s bankruptcy case ended.
The case was ultimately settled in 2008, with Orange County Choppers paying $500,000 to Trustee Tom Genova, who distributed it between all the creditors previously affected. As Record Online reported, the settlement included a ‘gag order’, meaning the parties couldn’t publicly talk about the case.
Why Did Iron Works File For Bankruptcy?
While Orange County Choppers was at its peak thanks to the fame it gained through “American Choppers”, the Teutuls’ business O.C Iron Works was going downhill. It all started in 2003, when a company named Turner Construction commissioned the Teutul family’s company to provide them with steel for the construction of a local New York school.
Things didn’t turn out as expected, though. In November that year, O.C Iron Works was unable to provide the agreed materials, leading Turner to terminate their business relationship and sue them for breach of contract. According to reports, O.C Iron Works started moving their assets to Orange County Ironworks in late 2004, only months before the breach in contract case turned in favor of Turner in June 2005 for $1.3 million.
Two weeks after New York State Appellate Division sided with Turner, O.C Iron Works filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, claiming that they owed $667,000 and listing their assets at less than $600,000, but as is known, that wasn’t the end of the Teutuls’ path in the steel business.
Senior vs Junior Fight
Surely the most remembered incident involving the Teutul family was the famous firing of Paul Jr. from Orange County Choppers in 2008. The moment achieved astronomical popularity, thanks to being featured in detail in “American Chopper”, becoming a worldwide-known incident that to this day is still the source of laughs and memes.
Regardless of the scandals and the attention, the incident sadly marked the downfall of a family. Although Paul Sr and Jr weren’t strangers to having off and on camera disagreements related to their business, that day in late 2008 the patience of both men was at their limit, and what started as a mildly serious call out from father to son regarding the latter’s alleged lack of commitment to his work, evidenced by his tardiness, ended up in a serious verbal fight.
Hurtful words were said by both parties, the argument ending with Paul Jr. throwing a chair at his father’s office wall.
Though Jr. a minority owner of Orange County Choppers’ shares, he was terminated from his designing job in the company that day. Jr. later tried to rejoin the company as a contractor, but the continuing tense relationship between him and his father resulted in his second exit from the business.
The Legal Battle
Paul Jr’s firing from Orange County Choppers wasn’t only a family matter, as it started a bittersweet legal battle between father and son. Following Jr.’s first exit from the shop in 2008, TLC filed a notice of default given his absence from the show, leading him to take a part-time job in Orange County Choppers that didn’t turn out well in the long run.
Things became harsher for the family then, as Paul Sr filed a lawsuit to obligate his son to sell him the 20% of shares in the company, given that the market value of his interest was deemed at $0 by a valuation done of Orange County Choppers.
Paul Sr. filed another lawsuit in early 2010, asking his son for $1 million in damages, in an effort to make him sell his percentage in the company, resulting in his favor.
By this time “American Chopper” had been canceled, and Jr. had established his own company – Paul Jr. Designs.
In late 2010, Paul Jr. filed an appeal which was ultimately granted by the Appellate Division, determining that he wasn’t obligated to sell his interest in Orange County Choppers, but needless to say, at this point the father and son relationship had already been decimated.
Although Paul Jr.’s firing incident is still the most famous of all the Senior and Junior arguments featured in the show, there were other previous instances in which we saw first hand both men getting at each others’ necks.
The oldest of these memorable incidents happened in 2004, when Orange County Choppers was preparing to show off at the Daytona Bike Week, but in an unlucky twist of fate, Paul Jr. realized he’d failed at correctly measuring their bike for the event. Inevitably, Paul Sr. berated him not only about his mistake, but also brought out other issues related to their work schedules.
The frustrating situation added to the already existent stress resulted in a heated argument, but ultimately the bike was successfully finished.
Other times, Senior and Junior’s issues had more to do with both men’s egos, such as during the Gander Bike’s building, when a simple discussion about whether the bike’s wheels needed to be outsourced or not, ended up in a heated argument in which father and son judged each other’s business choices and ability to lead the shop. At that time, it was already obvious that a bigger and deeper family issue was going on, so it wasn’t unexpected at all when the actual blow-out finally happened.
Justin Barnes Lawsuit
Besides the already known legal battle going on between Paul Sr and Jr in 2009, an unexpected lawsuit against Orange County Choppers came from a angry former employee.
Justin Barnes with his agency JB Grafix had worked for the Teutul family for several years, showcasing his talent on the paintwork of popular bikes such as the POW-MIA and the I-Robot.
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However, as alleged by Justin, Orange County Choppers, “American Chopper” and Acitivision had used at least 18 of his original designs without authorization, printing them on merchandise for the show, DVDs covers, and other products sold by the shop and associates
In the Copyright Infringement lawsuit, Barnes asked for compensation for the alleged illegal usage of his designs – unfortunately it’s unknown what exactly the case resulted in, but judging by the lack of information about it, it’s safe to assume Discovery and Orange County Choppers settled the issue out of court.
Cody Connelly Lawsuit
The year 2009 surely wasn’t very good for Orange County Choppers on the legal side. Only a couple of months after Justin Barnes sued the shop, another former employee’s lawsuit made some of the business’s ongoing issues more evident.
Many loyal “American Chopper” fans might remember Cody Connelly, a young intern who joined the shop as a teen.
After his matriculation from high school, he enrolled in the American Motorcycle Institute under Orange County Choppers’ sponsorship, but in 2007, Cody left the shop to join V Force Customs, the then-new business of the also former employee of the Teutuls, Vinnie DiMartino.
In July 2009, Cody sued Orange County Choppers for fraud, misappropriation of likeness and breach of contract. He accused the company of using his name on merchandise, in addition to not receiving the Old School Chopper, a bike he helped to design and was gifted to him by Paul Sr in a 2003 “American Chopper” episode: ‘I was young and had no idea what I’d been missing out on, and what I’m entitled to’, Cody stated in the lawsuit.
The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2011, and at some point Cody briefly worked with Paul Jr. Designs. However, he apparently left the bike business altogether, and is nowadays working as a car seller agent.
Breach In Contract Lawsuit
After keeping himself away from legal problems for several years, in 2019 Paul Sr. was sued again, this time for breach of contract.
The issue started in August 2018, when Paul Sr. commissioned the car shop JTM Motorsports to perform modifications on a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, partially in exchange for featuring the shop in the 2018 “American Chopper” revival. According to the shop, the work done on the car cost them around $70,000, which Senior didn’t pay, and also failed to comply with his promise of publicity.
Although at first JTM wanted to auction the car to recover the costs, they ultimately sued Paul Sr for compensation, but the issue sadly coincided with Teutul’s bankruptcy case, filed in late 2018. In January 2019, both parties agreed that the compensation would be paid in escrows released in the following months, but Paul failed once again to pay the $30,000, and apparently refused to communicate with JTM, leading the company to sue him again, seeking compensation for the owed amount, plus $13,000 in punitive damages and legal fees.
While it’s supposed Paul Sr. ended up paying the owed amount, complying with these types of legal obligations must have been difficult, given his then-current complicated financial situation.
In 2019 Paul Sr faced yet another legal issue, when photographer Scott Gunnells sued him for Copyright Infringement. According to court documents, the Teutuls had previously contracted Gunnells to take photos for an art exhibition hosted by Paul’s son Michael Teutul. However, the family ended up using material unauthorized by Gunnells, not only for the exhibition, but on merchandise and promotional posts, in addition to erasing his professional watermark from it.
Besides Paul Sr., the lawsuit also included Orange County Choppers, his son Michael, Discovery, and “American Chopper” production company Pilgrim Media Group. In February 2020, the Southern District of New York’s court sided with Gunnells, determining that he was owed $258,484 in compensation. The verdict came at a tough time for Paul, though, as his financial problems had already pushed him to sell his New York home months before, owing thousands in taxes on his restaurant Orange County Choppers Café, and had just been accused of neglecting his Chapter 13 bankruptcy case.
The Long Awaited Reunion
Amidst Paul Sr.’s legal and financial issues, his family’s situation took a turn for the better in 2018. As unbelievable as it might sound, Paul Sr was able to reconcile with his son Paul Jr. after years of not directly talking to each other, and conducting a tough beef on and off screen.
#ThrowBackThursday: Maybe Senior and Junior can finally patch things up. Tell us in the comments what questions you would ask them.
Although a reunion had previously been unimaginable, given their long-time broken relationship, they relinked after a proposal to star in another “American Chopper” revival: ‘We tiptoed into it, and the more we got around each other, the more we started to build trust’, Paul Jr. confessed to People, which reported that despite getting along again, both men agreed not to work together, seeing that it was primarily job-related issues that initially ruined their relationship.
The 2020’s special episode “The Last Ride” saw Paul father and son working together again, before Orange County Choppers closed its doors in New York, and moving to Florida. However, as Junior confessed to Yahoo Entertainment!, the experience didn’t turn out as expected: ‘I was hoping we were gonna work together on it, and it didn’t happen, but I’m still getting in a room with my father’.
While it seems that father and son still have a long way to go before finally cementing their relationship, the fact they’re trying to fix the issues which initially broke them apart is truly admirable.