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Student Sues to Win Fighter Jet Shown on Pepsi Commercial

August 7, 1996 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) _ A 21-year-old business student sued PepsiCo Inc. on Tuesday, demanding that the soft-drink maker give him a Harrier fighter jet like the one pictured in a promotional TV ad.

John Leonard’s lawsuit, filed by his Miami lawyers in Dade County, Fla., Circuit Court, accuses Pepsi of breach of contract, fraud, deceptive and unfair trade practices, and misleading advertising.

Pepsi maintains the commercial was a spoof and says it has a perfect right to use humor in its advertising.

``We are confident that Mr. Leonard’s claim has no merit,″ Pepsi spokesman Jon Harris said. ``If we have to put disclaimers on spots that are obviously farces, where does it end?″

The dispute began in October, when Leonard, a student at Shoreline Community College, saw a television ad as part of a Pepsi Stuff promotion in which customers who had racked up points on beverage containers could claim a variety of prizes. As a joke, the company also ``offered″ the $70 million fighter jet for 7 million points.

To avoid having to drink that much Pepsi, Leonard called the company and said he was told he had the option of buying Pepsi points for 10 cents each.

Leonard, of suburban Lynnwood, rounded up five investors from the East Coast, who committed to put up the $700,000 he needed to claim his prize. The investors were friends Leonard had met on mountain-climbing trips.

On March 28, Leonard delivered to Pepsi 15 original Pepsi Points plus a check for $700,008.50 for the remaining 6,999,985 points, ``plus shipping and handling,″ the lawsuit says.

``Surprisingly, on May 7, 1996, Pepsi ... failed and refused to process the items, ... and more importantly failed and refused to provide the new Harrier jet to Leonard,″ the suit says.

Two more attempts to submit the Pepsi Points and check also were rebuffed, the suit says.

After Leonard threatened to sue, the company filed a pre-emptive suit July 18 in federal court in New York, seeking to have his claims declared frivolous and seeking reimbursement for the company’s legal fees.

Leonard has denied his actions are a publicity stunt or an attempt to get Pepsi to settle out of court. He saw the plane as an entrepreneurial venture, saying perhaps he could take customers on thrill rides.

``I am simply trying to take Pepsi up on an offer it made to the public,″ Leonard said.

The two sides met last week to try to resolve the dispute, but nothing was settled.