A former Main Line restaurant owner has reported to Chester County Prison to begin a sentence that could last as long as three months while he tries to show a judge he will pay back money he owes a former business partner.Joseph F. Curtis of Rosemont, who co-owned and operated the Bryn Mawr Pub for several years before it closed and who went into bankruptcy, owes Carl Henry Fisher III more than $40, 000 stemming from Curtis' failed attempt to take over the Berwyn Tavern in early 2007.
According to a criminal complaint, Curtis wrote checks totaling $45, 000 that were returned for insufficient funds during the three weeks he was nominally in control of the Berwyn restaurant and bar.
One of the checks, for $20, 000, was written to Fisher as payment for rent and other expenses in Curtis' attempt to run the bar. It bounced, and when Curtis later wrote two checks totally $25, 000 on the restaurant's PNC bank account, Fisher was held liable for making sure the bank got its money back.
"This was a complete out and-out fraud", Fisher told Judge Thomas Gavin on Friday at the end of a hearing during which Gavin sorted out what money was owed to Fisher and how it would be repaid. "This gentleman might as well have stuck a gun in my face. Why is he still walking around (free)."
Curtis pleaded guilty Monday to one count of theft by unlawful taking. Gavin deferred formal sentencing, but told Curtis and his attorney, Eugene Steger, Curtis would have to come up with at least $12, 500 by Friday or have an agreement of sale for his Rosemont home or he would be sentenced to state prison.
Alternatively, if Curtis brought the money, Gavin said he would simply revoke Curtis' bail and allow him to work out a system by which he could go to work at his construction job during the day and return to the Chester County Prison at night, assigning over a portion of his weekly pay to begin making restitution to Fisher.
Curtis chose the second option, with Steger handing the court a check from his own account for $12, 500-paid for, he said, by Curtis' brother.
"This was not intentional", Curtis told Gavin as the judge told him his fate. He said that when he arranged to take over the Berwyn Tavern he had been assured other investors would join him. They did not, and he did not have the capital to pay for his debts to Fisher and others.
Fisher had told Gavin that after three weeks of having Curtis run the restaurant after bouncing the initial payment, Fisher returned to the establishment to find it cleared out of all liquor, beer, wine, food and fixtures. Even a television set had been taken. "It was like it had been ransacked", he said.
Going over what Fisher paid out of his pocket to cover his losses with Assistant District Attorney Jessica Krilivsky, Gavin determined the final figure to be $44, 282.24. The amount included not only the initial $20, 000 check that bounced but also utility and cable payments, liquor liability insurance and the cost of replacing the items taken from the tavern.
"I would like to apologize to Mr. Fisher and my family", Curtis told Gavin, who gave him until May 3 to turn himself in and start his confinement in county prison while working off his debt. "I certainly do think I've learned my lesson."
After the hearing, Fisher said he had been able to keep the tavern open and operating with a new partner.
"We're next to the Berwyn train station" he told a reporter. "Open for lunch and dinner."