Restaurant owner faces more charges

by Keith Barber

On Dec. 3, Malik Aslam, manager of AAA Quick Mart in Kernersville, said a regular customer entered his business and asked if she could cash a check from her employer. Aslam said he then contacted the person who had signed the check — Scott Leard, owner-operator of Basil’s Trattoria restaurant — to ensure there were sufficient funds to cover the $666 check.

“He told me this is a good check. ‘She is my employee. There is nothing wrong to cash it.’ So I cash it, and seeing how he is in town and in business, I thought everything is okay. Then the check bounced. The bank said insufficient funds.” After the notice of insufficient funds, Aslam said he called Leard up and asked him for payment in full. Leard promised to meet him two days later at his AAA Quick Mart, but never showed, Aslam said. After several unsuccessful attempts to contact Leard, Aslam said he went to Basil’s Trattoria and confronted him directly. “I said, ‘If you don’t want to pay me, fine. Don’t make up stories,’” Aslam recalled. Over the course of several weeks, Aslam said Leard paid him $300 in cash. The last payment of $100 arrived on Jan. 12. But for the past six weeks, Aslam said his attempts to recover the difference of $366 have proved futile. Aslam said the restaurant employee, Reba Rogers, returned to the Quick Mart several weeks after the check bounced and asked for a photocopy of the check. Aslam said he will have to ask Rogers for the difference if he cannot recover the money from Leard. In the meantime, he’s lost a regular customer. “Reba was my regular customer all the time, and now she doesn’t show up,” he said. Leard said he doesn’t mind paying Aslam the difference of $366, but he accused Rogers of forging his name on the check. Leard has also accused Rogers and her husband, James, also a former Basil’s employee, of stealing checks, and said his attorney had filed criminal charges against them. “People ought to watch themselves,” Leard said. “What they’re doing is getting themselves involved in a ballgame. I will go after them, and when I go after them, it will get ugly.”

A check of criminal and civil records at the Forsyth and Guilford County courthouses reveals that to date, no charges have been filed against either Reba or James Rogers. However, a number of judgments filed against Leard appear in court records in both counties. In 1998, US Foodservice

Corporation filed a judgment for $7,952 against Leard and Pinot’s Restaurant. In 1999, WMAG- FM filed a judgment for $3,000 against Leard and Pinot’s restaurant. In 2002, the US Internal Revenue Service filed a judgment of $42,163 against Leard. Between 2002 and 2004, the NC State Department of Revenue filed three separate judgments against Leard totaling nearly $21,000. In 2004, PYA Monarch filed a judgment of $3,117 against Leard. Leard said the aforementioned judgments came as a result of Pinots, his former restaurant, closing. However, the list goes on. In 2005, Original Triad Door Company filed a judgment for $627 against Leard, who said he would not pay the debt. In 2006, Moses H. Cone Hospital filed a judgment against Leard for $130,580. Leard explained the debt to the hospital resulted from his wife suffering two brain aneurisms in 2002, and the fact that his health insurance provider dropped his coverage. In 2008, Invisible Fence filed a judgment for $790. Leard said he is making payments to satisfy that debt. Last year, TVM Mowing and Lawn filed a judgment against Leard for $188. Leard said he would not pay that debt. Most recently, on Feb. 16, All Fresh Produce filed a judgment against Leard in Forsyth County for $1,041. According to court documents, Leard filed for bankruptcy on three separate occasions — May 2001, April 2002 and January 2003. Each time court records indicate Leard was reinstated from bankruptcy, but he suffered a foreclosure of his home in 2003. A number of other businesses have filed judgments against Leard over the past 10 years but according to court records, he has failed to make a single payment to any of his creditors. Leard claims he has made payments to his creditors, which the court records don’t reflect. Former Basil’s employee Lori Rucinski said her personal story mirrors Aslam’s experience. Rucinski said Leard still owes her $648. On Dec. 30, Rucinski said she quit her job at Basil’s after receiving an eviction notice the day before. On her last day at Basil’s, Rucinski asked Leard to be paid for back wages. For the past two months, Rucinski said Leard has strung her along with promises to pay, promises that have gone unfulfilled. “Every time he’ll say, ‘Get up with me tomorrow,’ or ‘I’ll pay you tomorrow’ and when tomorrow comes, he comes up with another excuse why he can’t pay you,” Rucinski said. Leard promised to pay Rucinski $499 on Feb. 20. Rucinski said she disputed the amount, claiming she is owed $648, but agreed to meet with Leard. Once again, Leard failed to keep his promise. On Feb. 21, Rucinski received a text message from Leard which reads, “I am not going to lie to u; I looked online this morning several checks came through last night only left me with 50 dollars in account after tonight.” Rucinski said Leard paid her $100 in cash on Feb. 23. Leard confirmed the transaction, andacknowledged he still owes Rucinski for back wages. Still, Lori’smother, Lynn, said the numerous times Lori’s attempt to collect moneyfrom Scott and come away empty handed has “put a strain on everybody.” “Whereis all this money he’s bringing in going?” Lynn asked. Lauren Campbell,another former Basil’s server, said she can attest to Leard’s methodsof evasion when it comes to paying his employees. And Basil’s employeesaren’t the only ones getting stiffed, she said. “On any given day whileworking, people would show up, stand at the front of the restaurant forhours waiting for their money,” Campbell said. “Plumbers, electricians,past servers, each would just wait to be handed unmarked envelope witha check presumably inside. They would stand there as Scott made excuseafter excuse why he couldn’t pay them or just ignore them — anythingjust to make them go away. He fired people for unclear reasons orsimply told them they weren’t needed. But we have not been paid. We allhave bounced checks. We are searching a way to hold [him] accountable,to get the paychecks we are owed, but nothing has worked.” Campbellsaid she has pursued every possible method of recourse to recoup themore than $700 in back wages Leard owes her. Campbell said shecontacted a number of state and federal agencies, and she was told tofile a complaint with the NC Wage and Hour Bureau. Campbellsaid she spoke with a representative from the Department of Labor’sEmployment Discrimination Bureau, who then called Leard and asked himabout her claim of wages owed. The representative informed Campbellthat Leard said he only owed her $180. Campbell disputed Leard’s claim,telling the representative she had kept records of every day sheworked. “She said that didn’t prove anything. I asked her ifshe had inquired why he hadn’t paid me the $180 after more than amonth. She seemed irritated by the question and simply replied, ‘No,’”Campbell said. Leard confirmed that he had spoken with the Departmentof Labor representative and agreed to pay Campbell $180. Leard said hedid not have to pay Campbell her $545 in tips because she averaged morethan $6.50 an hour between her $2.13 hourly rate and tips. Jim Taylor,director of the NC Wage and Hour Bureau, said Leard’s claim has nobasis in fact. Taylorsaid according to state law, even if a tip-pooling arrangement existsin a restaurant, the employer must make ensure their servers get 85percent of their tips. In addition, servers must claim their tips atthe end of each week.

Campbellsaid the reason she kept her own records is that Basil’s employees wereinstructed by Leard to write down their hours in a three-subjectnotebook rather than punch a time clock. Campbell said she never signedany IRS forms like a W-4 or I-9 employment eligibility form during hertime at Basil’s and to this day, she has not received a W-2 form for2008. Rucinski corroborated Campbell’s claims, stating that employeeshandwrote their hours in a notebook and toward the end of heremployment, Leard and his manager, Chip Williams, kept the hours.Rucinski said she saved all receipts and kept meticulous records of herhours because she didn’t trust Leard’s accounting methods. Rucinskisaid server numbers were not assigned and servers had to keep track oftheir own tips. In the same notebook, servers wrote in tips claimed,Rucinski said. Upon starting at Basil’s, employees wrote down theirname, address, Social Security number and number of deductions theywanted to claim, but employees never signed any IRS paperwork, Rucinskisaid. Rucinski said to her knowledge, no one she worked with hasreceived a W-2 form for 2008. Campbell said she consulted with a localattorney who told her the cost of pursuing a judgment against Leardwould cost her $500 to $700 in attorney’s fees. On Feb. 19, Campbellsaid she spoke with the Department of Labor, and was told that normallyemployees who make claims for non-payment eventually settle. “Whyshould I have to settle for injustice?” Campbell asked. “How can wekeep allowing this to continue? I don’t see a point in spending moneyon a long trial and wasting more time. I’ve already given Leard all thetime and money I’m willing to.” For his part, Leard said he will payevery former employee the money they are owed. However, with eachpassing day, Rucinski said becomes more and more pessimistic aboutgetting her back wages. Still, she hopes by telling her story it might dissuade others who would consider working for Leard or Basil’s Trattoria. “Iwould really love to see that nobody else gets hurt by [Leard], and Icould definitely use the money that I’m owed,” she said. “I would alsolike for everyone who has been hurt by him to get paid and just be donewith it. It is highly unlikely that any of us will ever get paid, andit’s a shame because we worked our asses off for him and hisrestaurant.”

“People ought to watch themselves. What they’re doing is getting themselves involved in a ballgame. I will go after them, and when I go after them, it will get ugly.”— SCOTT LEARD owner-operator Basil’s Trattoria restaurant

Lauren Campbell deposited a check written by restaurantowner-operator Scott Leard, and a week later it was returned due toinsufficient funds. Campbell said it was the first of two bad checksLeard wrote her for back wages, which caused her bank to levy severaloverdraft charges against her. Campbell said Leard still owes her morethan $700 in back wages and tips.