I just spoke with Nicholas Cariotis, chief of the Check Division/Task Force on Identity Fraud at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office -- and the man charged with prosecuting Bob Sambol, who, as we mentioned this morning, has been accused in an indictment of stealing $300,000 from investor and (former) friend Lee Thompson. Cariotis walked Unfair Park through the series of events that led to the grand jury handing down an indictment yesterday. I also spoke with Heath Hyde, Sambol's attorney and a former Dallas County assistant district attorney, who maintains that this is a civil matter and not a criminal case.
An arrest warrant for Sambol will be issued no later than the middle of next week. Unfair Park has learned that today, Judge Larry Mitchell of the 292nd District set Sambol's bond at $15,000. Because of the amount of money at stake here, it's considered a first-degree felony, which carries with it a sentence of up to life in prison should Sambol be convicted.
Hyde does not dispute that in early 2007, Sambol took $300,000 from Thompson with the promise that he would invest the money in the restaurant and use a portion of that money to expand the landmark Bob's Steak & Chop Shop on Lemmon Avenue. Hyde says Sambol didn't expand simply because of the downturn in the economy; indeed, he tells Unfair Park, Sambol instead used the $300,000 to keep the restaurant's doors open, simple as that.
"Everyone who drives down the toll road can see all the empty steakhouses by the side of the road," he says. "The bottom line is, this is a civil matter over money and how it was used, but there wasn't any intent on his part to steal money from the man. This is a business deal that hasn't worked out too well. No one's at fault except how business has been in the last year. Most of Bob's business was business people who had people in from out of town, and there haven't been a whole lot of those in the last year."
After the jump, the Distict Attorney's Office's side of things.
Unfair Park has been unable to reach Chris Lewis, who represents Lee Thompson. But Cariotis says that last year, Thompson gave Sambol three separate checks for $100,000 each, which Sambol said gave him 10 percent of the business. "He told him he wold also add a cigar lounge attachment to the restaurant," Cariotis says.
But more than a year lapsed, and Sambol clearly had no intention of hiring a contractor to do any work on the restaurant, Cariotis says. And Thompson, who now considered himself a partner in the restaurant, didn't receive a cent on his investment, says the prosecutor.
"Bob put him off, according to my investigators, and in order to get Mr. Thompson to stop bothering him, he wrote him a check for $300,000 that was dishonored by the bank, which is how we got involved. He had his money appropriated by deception, because [Sambol] never intended to expand. That is why we accepted the case."
Cariotis says Thompson and his attorney did make a deal with the District Attorney's Office: If Sambol brought in a check for $100,000 on March 23, Cariotis would agree to withold the case from the grand jury -- with the caveat that he could always bring it back to the grand jury should Sambol not meet his obligations to Thompson. But when Monday came and went without a check, Cariotis proceeded with his case.
Hyde disputes Cariotis's account here.
"I don't think anything ever got that cemented," he says. "I don't think anything got that close. I am sure that if at any point, Bob had walked in and handed them $300,000, there wouldn't have been an issue."
But, he is asked, what about $100,000?
"I think there's more to it than that."
"I don't think that it ever got to that point," Hyde says.
Regardless, the grand jury got the case Tuesday, with Thompson among those who testified. (Sambol did not, which is not uncommon.) And the indictment came down yesterday, which will be followed in coming days by an arrest warrant -- though the prosecutor says "the chances Bob will be arrested are nil," becaue Hyde will post bond the moment it pops up in the Sheriff's Department's computer system.
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Cariotis says there's one simple reason why this is a criminal case, not a civil one, as Hyde asserts.
"Theft comes in many forms and shapes -- by deception, by deceit, by unlawful appropriation," he says. "And $300,000 is a lot of money. ... We feel we have a case, and if it has to go a jury, we'll go forward on it. Hopefully, it won't."
As for Hyde, he maintains that this will all get resolved well before it ever gets to trial -- that this is nothing more than a business deal between friends that went south.
"I firmly believe at the end of the day it'll all be worked out and everyone will go about their business and be happy," Hyde says. "This case has gotten a lot more attention than I anticipated, I'll say that. Everybody hates to see bad thing happen to people they like."