The former high-profile Portland restaurateurs who owe tens of thousands of dollars in civil judgments over unpaid bills have left the state and now face criminal charges that they wrote bad checks.

Thomas and Shannon Bard are accused of writing more than $19,000 in bad checks to Bow Street Distributing, a Freeport wine, beer and spirits merchant that sells liquor to restaurants and also operates retail stores.

Thomas Bard, who ran the business side of the couple’s Bard Enterprises, which owned the Mexican restaurant Zapoteca in Portland, is accused of writing 21 bad checks to Bow Street worth $10,376 between March and June 2017. The amount makes it a Class C crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

His wife is accused of writing 15 bad checks to Bow Street worth $8,882 during the same period. Shannon Bard, who was the public face of Zapoteca, appeared on Food Network shows and wrote cookbooks in addition to being the head chef of the couple’s restaurant on Fore Street. She faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

A spokesman for Bow Street declined comment on the charges, which were lodged by Freeport police. The couple were indicted by a Cumberland County grand jury this month.

FALL OF A HIGH-PROFILE COUPLE

The charges are the latest in a string of events that dislodged one of Portland’s highest-profile couples from the city’s burgeoning foodie community.

The Bards closed Zapoteca last June, saying they wanted to spend more time with their children. They then concentrated on another restaurant, Toroso, in their hometown of Kennebunk. Lawsuits from vendors, employees, suppliers and others accusing the Bards of not paying their bills in Portland tallied in the tens of thousands.

Similar civil suits were filed in Kennebunk, where the couple closed Toroso in late summer. The Port Road building where the restaurant was located was sold at public auction in December after the bank holding the mortgage foreclosed.

The charges against the Bards illustrate how difficult it is to operate a restaurant, particularly in Portland, where the competition is stiff, said Steve Hewins, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Restaurant Association.

“There’s a business that had a lot going for it, with an award-winning chef,” he said, surmising that the business had overextended itself.

That makes for a difficult recovery in a competitive market that suffers from seasonal swings in business, he said.

“You’ve got to be very good just to keep the doors open, and this is illustrative of the challenges that restaurant owners face,” he said.

MOVE TO MASSACHUSETTS

According to documents on file in the criminal case, the Bards have relocated to Harvard, Massachusetts. A call to Thomas Bard was not answered, and he didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

Documents on file with the York County Registry of Deeds say Toroso owed more than $75,000 to a food service and equipment company.

Most of the cases involving unpaid bills in Cumberland County have been settled in favor of the vendors who were owed money by the Bards. Some of them are default judgments in which, court documents said, the Bards didn’t answer the lawsuits and failed to appear in court.

The couple’s move to Massachusetts will slightly complicate efforts to collect on the judgments, mainly because of delays.

Andre Duchette, who won a judgment of nearly $44,000 against Bard Enterprises for unpaid rent on the Fore Street building where Zapoteca operated, said he and other lawyers will need to transfer the judgments to a Massachusetts court and ask a judge there to order the Bards to pay.

Duchette, who declined to comment on the specifics of his suit filed on behalf of Casco View Holdings, said transferring the judgment isn’t uncommon, and that rules on civil suits over unpaid bills are largely identical in Maine and Massachusetts. Courts in both states typically defer to the judgments entered in the other state, he said.

Delays in settling the debts can be costly. In one case, Agera Energy, which supplied natural gas to Zapoteca, won a $12,803 default judgment against Bard Enterprises and Thomas Bard for unpaid bills last July. In addition to assessing Bard $508 in court costs, the judgment has been accruing interest of 18 percent since it was entered.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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