The bar owner accused of pocketing $1 million for weddings he knew wouldn’t happen has copped to avoiding taxes and pocketing sales tax proceeds over the course of four years.
Jason Stevens pleaded guilty to grand larceny and tax fraud this morning and will likely face from 3 years and 4 months to 10 years in prison. Scorned lovebirds protested outside the courthouse and said that they are happy to see him headed for hard time, but wish he would face the music for robbing them blind.
“I’m happy that he’ll be seeing jail time,” said Alina Requena, one of the many brides who had their wedding plans dashed when Rebar closed abruptly on May 9. “I just wish there was some justice for us.”
Seven victims turned out to wield signs and watch the announcement of a deal with prosecutors that saw Stevens plead guilty to five felonies related to his failure to pay $200,000 in sales tax and avoiding $1.2 million in Internal Revenue Service bills, not the wedding crash.
Prior to the proceedings, Stevens slumped onto the wooden bench in the courtroom, resting his forehead on his arms. He stood up straight and spoke clearly to the judge while entering his plea. He then sat in the courtroom for more than an hour after his hearing had ended, finally rushing from the courthouse to a waiting car past a crowd of camera crews and angry to-be-weds yelling “Where’s our money?”
Stevens and his lawyer Allen Bahn kept quiet as they made their getaway.
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 attorney general’s office said it is investigating Stevens, but couples are growing inpatient.
“There’s still no charges being brought against him for us as a group,” Stephanie Kutch said, “It’s disgusting.”
Only one of the couples has sued Stevens so far. Jennifer Liseo and her partner say they ponied up $34,000 for their wedding, paying in full because Stevens offered them a discount. Stevens even gave them a tour of Rebar to help seal the deal, they said.
“He was very charming,” Liseo said.
The couple’s attorney Victor Dunlop served Stevens papers for the lawsuit after his plea at the tax fraud trial. The former proprietor rolled his eyes and let his lawyer handle the transaction, Dunlop said.
“A typical defendant,” he said. “It’s all business for him.”
Dunlop said his case will make the argument for fraud, not breach of contract, which is how such cases are often handled. He contends that Stevens knew he would close the business, even as he excepted the hard-earned money of engaged couples.
“He knew his business was financially unstable,” Dunlop said. “And he took the money anyway. That looks more like fraud than breach of contract to me.”
It is important to get a judgement leveled against Stevens now because he has not yet filed for bankruptcy, which will make it harder for other couples to sue, Dunlop said.
Some present said they are trying to move on. Julie Villar got hitched May 25 in spite of losing $22,000 in the Rebar debacle, moving the nuptials to Diety in Boerum Hill. She said it may have been for the best.
“We had a better wedding than we would have at Rebar,” she said.
Villar no longer expects to be reimbursed — she just wants to see Stevens punished for taking it.
“I don’t have any real hope for getting our money back,” she said. “But there has to be some kind of accountability.”
Stevens’s sentencing is scheduled for July 21.