Bill Pinelli has filed suit against his former restaurant business partner Steve Marra, accusing him of embezzling $1 million over several years. The complaint also states that Marra got Pinelli to unwittingly sign over shares of the business.
Mark Russo, a lawyer for Steve Marra, called the allegations in the lawsuit “complete fabrication,” in an interview Tuesday.
The suit marks the latest twist in a growing number of actions involving Marra and his restaurant group, which includes and the recently closed Post Office Café, both on Main Street.
Marra Restaurant Group on Dec. 8 and the by order of the receiver on Jan. 9. Pinelli and Marra ended their partnership in 2009, giving Marra sole control of the business.
In his complaint, Pinelli accuses Marra of secretly arranging in 2000 to have cash sales figures adjusted down by the general manager of Quattro Restaurant (later called Pinelli's Cucina Twist) in five of their jointly-owned establishments. The general manager was Kim Ragosta, who could not be reached for comment.
Marra “embezzled in excess of $1 million from the [business] by way of his scheme of reducing receipted sales and taking excess cash and converting it to himself,” the complaint reads. "From 2000 to 2005, [Marra] provided Ragosta with handwritten notes instructing her as to exactly how much the cash sales of the [five restaurants] should be adjusted."
Pinelli also states that he “detrimentally relied upon the statements of [Marra] as to the financial status of the [business] at and before the time of the execution of the buyout” on May 7, 2009.
The complaint reads: "[Marra] made misrepresentations to [Pinelli] on a number of occasions from 2007 to May 7, 2009, regarding the financial solvency of the [business] and the value of each of their interests... Specifically, [Marra] told [Pinelli] on multiple occasions during this period ... that the [business was] not profitable."
Pinelli and his lawyer, Michael Kelly, did not return phone calls Monday or Tuesday.
Pinelli was already operating Pinelli’s on Quaker Lane in West Warwick when he teamed up with Marra in 1994 to open the Post Office Café at 11 Main Street. At the time, Marra owned Alias Smith and Jones, now the Grille on Main, across the street.
At its peak, Pinelli-Marra Restaurant Group operated several restaurants, a catering company and a real estate firm. In addition the Grille and the Post Office Café, it owned Pinelli’s North End, Waterplace Restaurant, Pinelli’s Cucina Twist, Pinelli’s Cucina, Twist Restaurant, Twist Restaurant II; Atomic Catering.
“We’ve been talking to Pinelli’s attorneys for a while,” said Russo, Marra’s lawyer. “They’ve been threatening to file it.”
According to Russo, Marra bought out Pinelli’s then-30 percent share of the business in 2009 at Pinelli’s request, and a payment plan from Marra to Pinelli was established.
Russo said that Marra ceased payments several months ago, when he learned that Pinelli had gone into partnership in a new restaurant, Flare, in Coventry. Part of their separation agreement in 2009 was that Pinelli signed a non-compete clause, Russo said. The partnership in Flare was a violation of that.
“Bill’s not supposed to be involved in a restaurant,” said Russo. “Steve stopped the payments-over-time over the non-compete. His attorney’s been telling me that he’s going to step out of it,” Russo said referring to Pinelli.
“This is a strong-arm tactic to get Steve to resume payments,” said Russo.
According to Matt Burns, a waiter at Flare, the restaurant’s owner is Rick Pimental. “He did help out a little bit but he’s no longer involved,” Burns said about Pinelli. Pimental could not be reached for comment.
As of now, the complaint has only been filed in Superior Court. Pinelli must serve the complaint against Marra for it to proceed.
"If Bill’s withdrawn from Flare, then we’ll talk to him,” said Russo. “The difference is now he’s gone out and made these wild accusations.”