Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Growing Up Restaurant

We pick up the saga of my Mother's stolen money with the last person on our list of suspects - my mother's cleaning girl, Paula Johnson who was spending a lot of money...

 Once I was able to ascertain that the Johnson's were lying to my sister about where the money was coming from, I wanted to know why they were lying. Probate court records showed no inheritance due them. The Johnson's had been my sister's tenants in her upstairs apartment in Proctor Vermont for a couple of years and my mother's cleaning lady.

 I was able to gain access to the Johnson's credit report...it was a late night clandestine visit to a local bank. One day they had credit cards that were all over their limits: Sears, Montgomery Ward, Visa and Master Card.  The next day, all the balances were paid in full. Continuing my investigation, I discovered they had purchased a new Ford LTD, kept the car less than six months and traded it on a new, fully loaded Mustang. They lost a lot of money on the trade, nobody does that with money they made or even inherited, they were spending my mother's money like they hit the lottery.

 Further investigation showed that they were taking trips to NY City, going to Broadway shows, taking friends and picking up the tabs. They did one final thing that put me over the edge; they purchased a new stereo system ...state of the art at the time. The old system, simple but nice, they sold to my sister and her husband Jim who were making payments on it to the Johnsons!

 Looking into their spending I could almost account for all the money they had taken. What was going to need to happen was that they were going to pay my mother's money back.  But they couldn't do that from jail.

 I called the Commodore once again. It wasn't because there was an intimidation problem with the Johnson's, but I wanted them to understand the repercussions of not making the payments on time. The way I figured it, Ms. Johnson discovered the money boxes and took a few dollars, then a little more, and a little more until she realized no one was checking behind her, and then one day, she took it all. Almost a year had gone by and they must have thought... what a score!

 I assured The Commodore that these were the people and I just wanted him to scare them - no guns, no Crusher.  I asked him to bring someone more civilized.  That's when I met a character they called Ali Baba. Ali and the Commodore came by limo from Boston and we had a dinner in the back room of the Casa Bianca.  My mother once again didn't like the whole thing, but we were committed to justice for her. She was still happy to feed us.

 After dinner that night we headed out on the town in the limo for a cocktail and the driver ran a red light. The next thing we know we're being pulled over by a Vermont State Trooper. The officer came to the back window and looked into the car. It was our  old friend the cannoli junkie.  He took one look in the car and said, "I was never here!"  My new friends from Boston were impressed.  Little did they know, that trooper knew all.

 Mr. Johnson worked a night shift and returned home at eight a.m...we planned to be there when he arrived home from work.  So, the next morning at 7:45 a.m., we were sitting in the driveway of the Johnson's house in a long black limo with Massachusetts plates.  Not something you saw every morning in Rutland Vermont in 1981. Johnson was dropped off by a fellow worker.  Lunch pail in hand, he started walking towards the limo and the stairs to his apartment. He kept looking at the strange sight in his driveway and just as he approached the car, out come my two friends from Boston.

I remained in the car while Ali Baba and the Commodore stopped him and began talking with him.  They had a way with words and I saw Mr. Johnson's  body language tell a story - it was that fear thing again.  Although there was no gun or fist to the jaw, the fear was once again transparent. The Commodore came back to the car and said, "He's our guy." Mrs. Johnson was up-stairs in their second floor apartment snug in bed. She woke to a lot of commotion.
I stayed calm and told them how it was going to be; that I would come back with a truck and take everything of value that I could find and sell it all.  The balance would be drawn up in a note and paid with interest. They agreed.

I returned a few hours later with a couple of my best friends and two pickup trucks. We removed TVs, stereo, jewelry, guns and anything of value I could find, and I also took the Mustang. I drove the Mustang back to the restaurant feeling like the King of the Hill. I had delivered some resolve and there was hope my mother would see some money. Later that afternoon the Commodore called from Boston to ask how it had gone and I told him all was well and thanked him. He said "let me call them one more time and let them know there would be no late payments".  Sounded fine to me. Like I said they had a way with words.

Unfortunately, The Commodore scared them too much.   The headline in the next morning's paper was "Every late payment will be another nail in your coffin".  It went to an attorney, then to the cops, and at 2 a.m. that morning I was taken from my house in handcuffs.  My living room was filled with the items I had taken from the Johnsons and the Mustang was in my back yard. The charges included grand larceny and interstate extortion (because of the phone call from Boston).  I forget all the exact charges, but the police had the Johnsons in protective custody...what a mess. If the theft of the money didn't kill my mother, I thought this might. Because the call came from Boston, it was interstate and the FBI was on the scene.  They wanted very much for me to tell them who the people from Boston were.

About a month later, I was being drilled by the city attorney, who I fed on a regular basis, and the local FBI agent. My attorney, the Honorable Joseph O'Rourke, was present and they were deciding whether to take the case to the Grand Jury. The pressure was on me to tell them who the people from Boston were.  Up to that time I had told them some story about them being actors I had hired to scare the Johnsons.  Nobody was buying it.  It was a defining moment - I was scared as hell, but my options were limited.

I turned to my attorney and asked what was going to happen if I didn't turn my friends in; the answer was grim and dark. Some serious fines and possible jail time - none of which was very appealing. By this time everybody knew the real story. There was some sympathy building for me but the fact remained, I had taken the law into my own hands and had been fairly reckless and public about it.  But, in my mind, I thought, What jury would convict me?!

It was time to take a stand.  I looked the city prosecutor straight in the eye and said, "Let me get this straight, if I don't tell who those guys were you're not going to execute me, right?"  There was a bit of silence in the room, but the answer was no. With that answer I told them to do what they had to do.  They dropped all charges a few days later.

We took the Johnsons to court in a civil case and won.  They left town and never paid any money to my mother. She was, however, awarded the possessions we took from them which had remained in police custody as evidence. I have never seen them again and I understand Mr. Johnson passed away last year.

We began to re-enter our everyday lives, deal with our misfortune, focus on the restaurant and raising my boys... 

We hope you'll come visit and spend some time with us this  Spring before the summer crowds arrive.


Fine Dining in Pawleys Island

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