The former employers of a man who allegedly stole cash from their restaurant safe and then sued them in small-claims court for back wages have countersued, alleging that his meltdown leading to his termination has cost them far more than what he is owed.
Samantha and Craig Cordts-Pearce appeared before Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely in small-claims court earlier this month defending their position that they owe nothing to Joseph Kern, who was director of operations for their five Aspen restaurants from July to October, 2012.
Kern is accused of stealing $2,001 in cash from the safe of the Cordts-Pearces’ CP Burger restaurant on Oct. 3, the day he was terminated from his position. A surveillance camera had captured Kern entering the office of CP Burger and taking the money, leading to his arrest that day and charges on two felony counts of burglary and a felony theft count. He has not yet entered a plea in the case and is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 4. The cash, meanwhile, remains in Aspen Police Department’s evidence room.
Kern filed his lawsuit in December claiming that Samantha Cordts-Pearce, as an officer of the corporation that operates the restaurant group, owes him $5,230.76, which accounts for a two-week pay period, plus penalties per the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
But Samantha Cordts-Pearce in small-claims court provided a list of expenses incurred by her business as a result of Kern’s abrupt departure.
“This counterclaim by CP Restaurants for a bare minimum amount of $7,749.75 offsets the wage claim,” she wrote to the judge.
The counter-claim includes $1,128.75 in lock changing fees for doors and safes at the couple’s restaurants; bookkeeping and administrative fees for $450; court filing time of $1,050; $300 in legal fees and court filing fees of $120.
The Cordts-Pearces also include in their counterclaim $2,700 worth of their own time in searching, locating and apprehending Kern on behalf of the Aspen Police Department. According to a court filing, the couple’s time is worth $150 and hour, and they spent 18 hours tracking Kern down, including 16 hours of time spent “calling/searching/contacting” Kern.
Kern testified to a judge in another proceeding that prior to his arrest, he was on a drinking bender for a few days and had little memory of his actions. Aspen police contacted Craig Cordts-Pearce on Oct. 1, seeking his help in locating Kern as part of an arson investigation following a fire at Kern’s Hunter Creek apartment that day.
Craig Cordts-Pearce said he drove downvalley and picked up Kern, who was still in a heavily intoxicated state. He dropped Kern off at the Aspen Police Department, where he was questioned about the fire and released. He allegedly robbed the safe less than two hours later. The arson investigation is ongoing.
“I was worried about him. ... I feel like we had even saved his life,” Craig Cordts-Pearce said in small-claims court, adding he put all of his trust in Kern. “We were days away from giving him the keys to the vault. ... We don’t hate Mr. Kern. We are willing to let bygones be bygones.”
Kern confessed in small-claims court that he took the money from the safe because he had lost all of his possessions during his blackout.
“The issues I had those days, it wasn’t a personal choice, it was a product of what was going on emotionally,” he said. “It was not premeditated. I was essentially in an altered state of mind.”
Fernandez-Ely said his story wasn’t sounding as good as the Cordts-Pearces, surmising that he took the money out of anger, or because he was on drugs or alcohol. She wondered aloud if he had suffered a “head injury.”
“It really sounds like you were messed up,” she told Kern. “The way you are sounding, you were confused.”
Samantha Cordts-Pearce said Kern would have received his last paycheck had he shown up for work and hadn’t stolen from the business.
“How can you ask for the wages after stealing them?” she asked. “He would have gotten the money twice.
“We would have happily given him the money if he acted like a normal employee,” she added. “He was out of his tree.”
Despite his lawsuit against them, Kern praised the Cordts-Pearces as decent employers.
“In the separation, it wasn’t ideal,” he said in court. “I never contested the appreciation of my employment. They are great people and I have respect for them. ... I’m not trying to make them out as less-than-honest employers.”
Fernandez-Ely continued the hearing until Feb. 12. She requested that the Cordts-Pearces be more specific in their itemized counter-claim expenses and that Kern change his complaint to be against DB Bistro LLC, which is the parent company of the restaurant group, and dismiss Samantha Cordts-Pearce as an individual.
Craig Cordts-Pearce said Kern has done damage beyond just costing his business money.
“For me it’s a wash,” he told the judge. “It’s not about the money. It’s about responsibility and the reputation he set for our business.
“It’s a small town and everyone knows everyone’s business.”