A Return to Justice?
By Charles Bartels
New Hampshire Seacoast Sunday, June 12, 1988
(Charles Bartels photos)
Now that the perpetrator of a Hampton Beach restaurant scam has been caught in Florida, some of the victims are anxious to testify against the operators of 'And Besides" restaurant, while others still cling to fond memories of charismatic characters.
The grills were dirty and there was year-old grease in the fryers when the new manager of what had been "And Besides" restaurant took over this spring. "It was like they just took off and left everything," said Josh Rappaport, manager of Faces restaurant at the corner of Ashworth Avenue and A street at Hampton Beach.
There was no lack of evidence that the previous proprietors had indeed departed on the spur of the moment, and employees who were left behind without being paid were quick to attest to the point, as were people holding bad checks.
Brad Nelson, 29, is now in jail in Clearwater, Fla., on $100,000 bail for three outstanding arrest warrants from New Hampshire for allegedly passing worthless checks. His partner, Thomas Gibeaut, 39, is not being held, since it was Nelson who signed the checks.
It is possible that we'll never know how much money Nelson and Gibeaut absconded with, since people who have been taken by a con are reluctant to come forward. According to police last August when the pair left town, about $60,000 was owed in credit, bad checks and unpaid wages.
Most of the employees were young, and a handful were exchange students from Ireland and Great Britain. Their plight as innocent victims made a big splash in the media when the ripoff at "And Besides" was revealed last summer. With the recent arrest of one of the perpetrators in Florida, the case has resurfaced.
The Rockingham County Attorney's Office is presently working to obtain a governor's warrant so Nelson can be brought to trial on the Seacoast. Two women who were employees are still in the area, Suzanne Thibodeau of Exeter and Vicki Lucas of Worcester and Hampton.
Both women said they are happy the pair has been found, but while Lucas is anxious to testify against them, Thibodeau still harbors something of an affection for the men. She says she would like to attend the trial, but would not cooperate in putting Nelson behind bars.
"That is exactly how a con works," says Deputy Chief William Wrenn of the Hampton Police." (Cons) usually have great personalities and even after people have been ripped off (the people taken in) still defend them."
Ability to win trust
Along with the ability to win trust, Gibeaut could perhaps be credited with a sense of irony. A press release announcing the opening of "And Besides" last summer quoted Gibeaut as saying, "We break every rule in cooking."
Beyond personality and their other attributes, the pair could also cook like few who have tread on the Seacoast, according to the former employees. Gibeaut claimed to have studied in Switzerland and Nelson said he studied on the west coast.
"And Besides..." offered breakfast, lunch and dinner and featured occasional comedy nights in the upstairs lounge. The menu included a variety of cuisines, and all were delicious, according to both customers and employees.
Lucas still speaks in admiring tones of the men's culinary abilities. Each plate, even if everyone at a table would order the same dish, would come from the kitchen with a different garnish. By all reports, the food looked beautiful and consistently tasted delicious.
"They could have made it if they had stayed in town and paid their bills," she said.
It would not have been that easy however. Nelson and Gibcaut are also wanted for larceny on warrants out of Lexington, Mass. According to police, the two allegedly burglarized a restaurant where they were employed, Coffee Coffee, and allegedly robbed the home of the owner.
This spring, the men were working in a restaurant in Largo, Fla., when Gibeaut was pulled over for a traffic violation. When police ran his driver licence through a computer check, they learned of the association between Gibeaut and Nelson.
Largo police phoned the Rockingham County Attorney's office to see if they wanted Nelson picked up. The answer was yes, and he was quickly apprehended. Hampton Police Chief Robert Mark said it could be another month before his department will send an officer to Florida to retrieve Nelson. Mark said he did not know if Gibeaut had fled or if he is waiting to see what happens to his friend. Mark said he does not know of any order restricting Gibeaut's travel.
Air of suspicion
Last summer, as the pair was on the verge of bugging out, there was an air of suspicion that something was not right, Lucas recalled. "They were trying to get rid of the food. We had a lobster buffet for eight dollars."
Nelson and Gibeaut told the staff they had to cater a function the next day, but they were not busy preparing the food as they usually would have, Lucas said.
"They came in late and had a few drinks but didn't do any cooking," she said. After they closed the kitchen, Lucas said she was instructed to put a sign outside announcing that no food is being served but the bar was open, an illegal act for which the restaurant was cited by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
The employees were told to take the next morning off. The next afternoon Nelson and Gibeaut were nowhere to be found when everyone appeared for work. Lucas recalls that she was working behind the bar the day the restaurant was serving no food, and the key to the liquor cabinet was missing. "It was slow, so I didn't need to get in ... but the next day we pulled the door back and saw they cleaned out the booze."
At this point it was clear that something was awry, despite calls from the men throughout the day saying they would be back soon. Some of the Irish employees then went to Nelson and Gibeaut's apartment at 10 Francis Street near the beach and found it empty.
Now everything the youths had seen over the summer was becoming clearer. Two weeks before, one of the Irish students who had to return to Ireland early to take entrance exams for college, demanded his pay. Nelson and Gibeaut waffled, putting off handing over the money. A few days later, the student and two other of the Irishmen went to Nelson and Gibeaut's apartment and, upon entering, saw on the kitchen table stacks of money the men were counting.
The student was paid about $1,000 in cash and caught his flight.
Lucas said Janet Ritchie, the manager of "And Besides," advised her to cash her checks as quickly as possible after she received them. Getting a check was an intermittent event anyway, Lucas said. She was owed $600 in back pay when Nelson and Gibeaut left town. Lucas was paid four dollars per hour for bartending. "Thank God tips were good," she said.
Looking back with regret
After the Nelson and Gibeaut had left town, and as the students were scrambling to find sources of income, they reflected on what they had observed about the pair. The two were prone to fighting each other. Nelson was said to be consistently personable, while Gibeaut was moody and could turn mean at any point.
"You do one thing wrong and he was at your throat," Lucas said. She and some of the other employees attributed Gibeaut's volatility to alcohol. The pair would regularly finish a night's work by drinking whisky, but still returned early in the mornings to cook for breakfast.
Lucas said that shortly after the restaurant opened, a bartender was hired and he did not get along with Nelson or Gibeaut. One Saturday night a short time after he was brought on he appeared for work apparently drunk. He excused himself to get something out of his car that evening and did not return. That was the night Lucas, who was hired as a cocktail waitress, became a bartender.
"I'd poured drinks before but never anything big. They made me a bartender though ... That's what I admired about Brad. He always told you, 'Think about how you are going to do this,'" she said putting her forefingers to her temples. While Nelson's helpfulness was appreciated, his bar management skills were perplexing.
"Not once! Not once did he count out the register after a shift," she said incredulously. Lucas said she would carefully write down any overage, but Nelson would throw away her sheet at the end of the night, barely giving it a glance. She said she never had to match a total between the register tape and the take in the cash drawer. "He wouldn't even look at it," she said. The manager, Ritchie, recounted shortly after the scam became fully evident that the invoices were in total disarray and were kept in a box and almost never paid. She said that Nelson and Gibeaut said everything would be taken care of by the end of the summer when the restaurant would be in the black.
When that did not happen, Ritchie learned that the men did not meet the agreement with the owner of the Seagate Motel where Ritchie was staying. Part of the bargain that induced Ritchie to take the job was that the men would pay for her stay at the motel for the summer.
No money was paid for her room nor for the building rent for the restaurant. One woman, who described herself as a customer who loved the food and was charmed by the men, privately admitted that she had convinced her husband to loan the restaurant money. She appeared with a check for upwards of $20,000 on the day the pair left town. She had just missed them, and was saved from a major ripoff.
Their plight portrayed
In the days after the pair fled, Ritchie took charge and called media across the Seacoast and in Boston. Local newscasts and ones in Boston featured the plight of the young people left without being paid and focused on the exchange students. Some of the students borrowed money to make the trip and, ironically, were working to pay back their debts.
The Golden Peacock, a lounge at the beach, donated use of the place for one night for a benefit to help make up what the young workers lost.
The name of the event was "And Besides... they deserted us." Several thousand dollars were raised and the exchange students were able to leave with some money and less of a bad taste about being taken. Ritchie stressed that she wanted the youths to have a favorable impression of the U.S. and, then state Labor Secretary, Vance Kelly appeared to give his moral support. He said he sympathized, as he was once an exchange student in Poland.
Lucas, who recovered $300 of the money owed her via the benefit, said the students enjoyed the chance to make their statements on television and saved newspaper clippings.
While the students as a group did not seem particularly embittered to the country, none were bowled over by the beach community. Several noted its resort status and grumbled about the drive for profit that they saw pervading the focus of a potentially beautiful Seacoast.
The Irish exchange students were not the only ones to suffer. Ritchie was not fully paid for her work supervising the restaurant staff, and the artist who painted the visages of celebrities was also left uncompensated.
Though no one seems to remember his name, it is his work that has become the basis for the new name of the restaurant. The faces of film stars grace the walls of the upstairs lounge of Faces. Rappaport said the new owners pondered over many names, but the one that would best fit the decor was chosen.
Photographs of celebrities are on the walls of the downstairs dining room. There are no overt references to the previous proprietors, though Rappaport said the chef is excellent.
The employees last summer said Nelson and Gibeaut had hinted that they were going to Florida next and tried to induce two of the employees to go along. None did. Thibodeau, however, found herself vacationing in Florida this spring and she said she was on the lookout for the men.
"I went into a bunch of restaurants and looked at the menus. I know I could tell if they were there," she said.
Charles Bartels, former reporter for Foster's Daily Democrat, is now a freelance writer living in Portsmouth.
(Charles Bartels photos)
(Charles Bartels photos)