Saturday, January 26, 2019

Victims speak out against local business owner who cost them thousands, 'She's never gonna stop' - Valley News Live

FARGO, N.D. Before a high-end olive oil bistro found it's home in Moorhead, it was located across the river in Fargo, as well as in Champlin, Minn.

But prior to that, owner Christine Conrad operated 'Berry Kabobs' where she served fruit on a stick for customers at state fairs, but also offered catering services.

When Chelsea Kohl found the small business at a Fargo bridal show, she decided it would be the perfect fit for her July 2011 wedding. Kohl signed a contract with Berry Kabobs and paid $1500 up front.

"I walked in and saw that she wasn't there, and I remember catching eyes with my mother-in-law and she mouthed the words, 'She did not show.' And I went, 'What the heck?'" Kohl said.

Kohl says she tried calling and texting Conrad for the rest of the wedding night, with no answer or reasons why.

"I feel sorry for anybody that's been affected by her wrong actions," Kohl said.

Conrad's no response prompted Kohl to send an email a few days later, threatening legal action.

"Have you ever heard back from Christine?" our reporter, Bailey Hurley asked.

"I have never. She has never reached out," Kohl replied.

In a suit filed in October 2012, a judge ordered the Kabob owner to pay Kohl a little over $2,000—Money Kohl says she's never seen.

"I was hoping, my best hope was to get something back from her. But at this point I have not received anything," Kohl said.

Conrad filed for bankruptcy in May 2012 and court documents say while officials from Ally Financial were trying to repossess her vehicle, Conrad had sold it on Craigslist for $28,000 to Richard Jacoby.

"We realized the title was no good, and then it just turned into lies and stories and dragging her feet and broken promises. There was always a reason or excuse why things weren't adding up," Jacoby said.

Jacoby's new ride was soon taken back and a lawsuit from both Jacoby, as well as Ally Financial followed.

"I gave her a chance, I said, 'Hey you know, you have a month to figure it out.' And then 30, 60, 90, 120 days came and never seen a dollar," Jacoby said.

A judge ordered Conrad to pay almost $90,000 between the two parties, but that's cash Jacoby says he doesn't think he'll ever see.

"She just completely took advantage of an innocent person and took off from there and just truly does not care," Jacoby said.

A federal judge later denied Conrad's 2012 bankruptcy filing—An act one legal expert says she doesn't see often.

"Very, very rare. If they're denied, there's typically allegations of fraud, misrepresentation, inaccurate documents," Sara Diaz, a bankruptcy lawyer at Bulie Law Office, said.

Multiple people, businesses and building owners have also since filed suits against Conrad. Judges in both North Dakota and Minnesota have ordered the business owner to pay fees totaling around $190,000 for unpaid services and products, as well as outstanding rent.

"Judgments are easy to get and hard to enforce. Judgments, you just have to show that the debts owed. Typically debtors don't respond," Diaz said.

Before officially closing her Champlin bistro, Conrad opened 'Reese and Riley's' in Fargo in September 2017.

Then Conrad applied for a wine and beer license for that new bistro three times with three different people's name.

"If you have a felony you're not allowed to have a liquor license," the Liquor Control Board told Conrad in July 2017.

"We saw this last month, and denied the motion to issue the license to the applicant. Well, we received a second application from a partner," the Liquor Control Board announced at their August 2017 meeting.

"It's my understanding that a liquor license can only be denied based on a felony charge conviction. So, why would this be denied?" Conrad questioned to board members when her second application was denied.

"This is very serious. First of all, November 2016, domestic violence, he pled guilty. 2017, simple assault, received 30 days in jail, and a $400 fine, that's very serious. And the last one is September 2012, criminal trespass, those are very serious!" Dave Piepkorn explained to Conrad.

The Liquor Control Board denied Conrad's first requests due to her felony theft charges, and her brother's disorderly conduct and simple assault convictions.

Conrad's business was finally approved in October 2017. But then a suit was filed that December, demanding Conrad pay almost $50,000 in unpaid rent and be evicted just 6 months after opening.

"I think there's no end to this lady, I don't think that if somebody doesn't get a control on it, if the government doesn't step in or the IRS, or anyone, she's going to continue to do it. She's never gonna stop," Jacoby said.

Conrad then filed a second bankruptcy in October 2018, just one month before opening the bistro in Moorhead.

"I would not consider this a normal case. At all," Diaz said.

The 2018 bankruptcy is still pending as the Department of Justice has now stepped in—Calling for more time to investigate 'serious allegations.'

Court documents indicate that the D.O.J. received information that Conrad has 'substantial assets which were not listed' and that Conrad did not disclose transfers of assets.

"These extensions are pretty common, however, one like this is pretty serious. If she's bringing in corporate assets from another entity, or her own assets that should have been disclosed in the bankruptcy, and they were being transferred into this new entity, that's a problem," Diaz explained.

We reached out to Conrad multiple times and in one brief phone call yesterday evening, Conrad denied all allegations, but did not go into any further details.

Conrad also declined to speak on camera, but told our reporter that she would meet to have a recorded interview. However, after attempts to set that interview up, Conrad did not return our calls.

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