They can’t get no satisfaction.
A dozen angry couples rallied outside a Brooklyn courthouse on Thursday to demand that Jason Stevens, owner of the Dumbo venue Rebar, be criminally charged for pocketing the money they paid him for weddings that can’t happen now that the venue is shuttered and he is facing separate charges of tax fraud. Police and the district attorney have refused to pursue the spurned lovebirds’ case, which they say shows the state has a double standard when it comes to settling scores.
“The government is making sure they get their money,” said Injy Carpenter, a Brooklyn Heights resident who says she paid Rebar more than $18,000 for a January 2015 wedding. “[Stevens is] not being held accountable for his crimes against us. We have a lot of working class people who put their life savings into their weddings.”
Outside Stevens’ court hearing the embattled restaurateur was swarmed by members of the press and aggrieved couples who say he duped them out of money and made their special day a nightmare. Stevens closed shop abruptly on May 9, then disappeared for a week before turning himself in to face the music for allegedly skimming sales tax at his busy gastropub for four years.
The couples say that Stevens took payments for 150 weddings that were to take place over the next two years and made off with $1 million.
The couples have tried filing complaints with the police and with state and borough prosecutors, but Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office called it a civil problem, and police won’t even take a report, they say. Police would not respond to a request for comment and the state attorney general’s office said only that it is investigating.
But the should-be-weds are still flooding law enforcement phone-lines, with some saying that tacking years onto a potential prison sentence for Stevens is more important than getting their money back.
“At this point, I’d just rather see him behind bars,” said Stephanie Kutch, who is helping to organize the couples with her fiance Christian Pascarella.
The act of soliciting and accepting money for nuptials that Stevens knew would not happen may constitute a crime, but a criminal defense attorney said that it is unlikely to be prosecuted in criminal court.
“It appears that this could be a theft,” said David Rankin, an attorney with the law firm Rankin and Taylor. “It looks like he may have taken their money. But people don’t usually get arrested for this type of thing.”
Rankin said such issues are usually handled through lawsuits because it’s easier to win a case in civil court and a win there could get the victims some cash back.
The couples have also reached out to local pols to see if they can provide leverage with the authorities.
None have offered their help so far, but Councilman Steve Levin (D—Dumbo) issued a statement condemning the alleged misdeeds.
“Couples on the eve of their marriage and the employees of Rebar should not be forced into this terrible situation,” Levin said. “And it is important that we work together as a community to find justice for those done wrong.”