Restitution vs. retribution in Rebar owner case

Stand-up couples: Stephanie Kutch and Christian Pascarella are helping organize the 150 couples who were affected by Rebar’s sudden shuttering.
Community Newspaper Group / Matthew Perlman

Paper doesn’t carry the same weight as prison.

So say some of the couples who lost around $1.8 million when Jason Stevens, owner of the Dumbo gastropub Rebar, closed the venue after they had booked their weddings there, and who aren’t happy with the latest details of a deal cut by the attorney general’s office mandating that he pay them back and banning him from owning restaurants. The spurned lovebirds say that if he has any money, he is hiding it, and that the only true justice would be if he was prosecuted for bilking them and ruining their wedding plans.

“It’s one big slap in the face to us,” said Christian Pascarella, who had a wedding booked at the space and has been organizing the scorned couples since it closed on May 9. “The fact that he’s not being charged with anything criminal is disgusting. I want to see him punished.”

Stevens pled guilty on June 12 to five felonies for not paying taxes and pocketing sales taxes over the course of four years, and faces as many as 10 behind bars, but the disgruntled customers insist that District Attorney Ken Thompson should charge him over the raw deal they got, too. Thompson’s office called the matter a civil-court issue two weeks after Rebar closed.

The attorney general’s court order spells out how much Stevens owes to the couples and the state for walking away from his business without any notice and pocketing deposits left by the to-be-weds. When the order was drawn up the Attorney General’s office had identified 73 couples, and calculated that Stevens owed $1,156,753.36, including state-imposed penalties. The office said it has identified an additional 20 couples since then, which brings the total up to $1,296,002.65, and that there are probably a total of 150 couples out there owed $1.8 million. Couples will have 120 days to show proof Stevens took their money after the court logs the state’s paperwork, an attorney general’s office spokeswoman said.

If Stevens does not have the money, or if the state cannot prove that he does, the deal says that the state could seize his money and property as he acquires it.

But some couples say he would never let his assets make it onto the books.

“If he comes into money, he’s never going to put it in his own name,” Pascarella said.

The order also bans Stevens from owning or operating a restaurant or catering hall in New York state for the rest of his life. But Attorney General Eric Schneiderman does not have the power to stop him from doing it somewhere else.

“He’ll just go and open a place in Jersey,” said Pascarella.

The aggrieved Romeo said investigators had to have been aware that Stevens was taking their money, but that they only cared about him stealing the state’s.

“They knew he wasn’t paying his bills, but they did nothing to protect the consumer,” Pascarella said, adding that he is now considering a lawsuit against Thompson’s office for its handling of the case.

Stevens’s sentencing is scheduled for July 21.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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