47 ABC News - Joseph Carlini of Berlin has two court trials set in 2017. He is facing criminal charges as well as a civil lawsuit.
Hearings were scheduled for the first week of January, but a number of things happened just before the new year.
Carlini's initial appearance for two felony theft charges was initially scheduled for January 4th in Circuit Court. But, according to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search Database, it looks like his defense attorney filed an appearance on December 28th which vacated that January 4th hearing. Although Carlini has not entered a plea, we're told he's taken a position of "not guilty".
And now he has a criminal motions hearing set for March. His jury trial is scheduled for April.
According to the criminal information documents, the owner of Tony Luke's restaurant in Ocean City, as well as the owner of Rayne's Sand and Gravel in Berlin, accuse Carlini of stealing thousands of dollars of property from them.
If Carlini is found guilty on these two felony counts he faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines for each charge. And since Carlini is still on parole from a 2008 theft scheme conviction, it's unclear how a new conviction might affect that early release and his subsequent probation.
In terms of that civil lawsuit, it appears that trial has been postponed until the first of february.
"It's an airtight case in our opinion and I don't foresee any liability concerns there," Salisbury Attorney Luke Rommel represents George Sakellis, the local businessman suing Joseph Carlini for $12,000.
47 ABC interviewed Rommel the first week in December. He admitted at the time that he and his client were hoping Carlini would settle the debt outside of court.
"It's in everybody's best interest not to go to court," explains Rommel. "That's just not beneficial to anybody in the long run, including my client. So we wanted to give every last chance and opportunity for Mr. Carlini to satisfy the debt. But unfortunately we could only wait so long and no longer, and we filed suit about a week later."
Rommel says this all started with a business deal in October 2016. Sakellis owned the Rotisserie King, a restaurant formerly at the Sea Gull Square in Salisbury. When it closed in April 2015, Sakellis' kitchen equipment remained.
Nearly a year and a half later, in August 2016, Carlini signed a lease to open the Fat Fish Grill in that location and the adjoining space formerly occupied by Thai Rada.
The two men worked out a deal. Carlini could keep the kitchen equipment for $15,000.
"At the time, the deal seemed to benefit both sides because the restaurant equipment was already in place," states Rommel. "So it was a turnkey operation, or close to it in that situation."
A Promissory Note, signed and notarized on August 31st, shows Carlini agreed to pay Sakellis a $3,000 deposit and 4 weekly payments for the remaining $12,000.
The deposit cleared, but Sakellis says four weeks passed without payment. After the due dates, Sakellis says he got a check from Fat Fish, Inc,.with Joseph Carlini's signature, for the full $12,000.
"At the time, he thought the deal had been finalized," Rommel tells 47 ABC on behalf of his client. "Unfortunately when the check was deposited at the bank, it turned out to be a bad check."
That's when Sakellis hired Rommel to sue Carlini, "We had a day where we were in the process of filing a lawsuit, and Mr. Carlini, fairly coincidently, unannounced shows up at my office. And of all people, I'm meeting with George, my client at the time.
"So, what he offered, what we ultimately agreed, to was a brief extension on payment, in exchange for increasing his obligation to $13,000, which represented the attorneys fees that were incurred by my client and the delay in carrying costs with the prior instance payment was not made."
Carlini and Sakellis, in Rommel's presence, signed another promissory note. However this one set a hard deadline, payment in full in five days.
Rommel, "9 o'clock AM. 9 o'clock came and went and needless to say, no payment was made."
47 ABC reached out to Carlini about the civil suit. He responded by text message, indicating the matter would be settled outside of court. That was on December 12th. However, Rommel says they haven't received a dime, "We've had a couple prior occasions where he's looked us in the eye and promised to pay what everybody agrees is owed, and those promises have been undelivered."
47 ABC continued to reach out to Joe Carlini for comment. At one point he even demanded an on-camera interview. We set one up for Thursday, December 8th. Carlini cancelled the day of stating he was out of town. 47 ABC scheduled another interview for the following Monday. He cancelled again.
On December 21st, we reached out again. The response came over text message, "I'm sorry, you have the wrong number."
Rommel tells us he's had his fair share of difficulty tracking Carlini down, too, "As a part of suing him, you have to do what's called 'serving someone with process' which means that a processing server has to go out and find someone and literally hand him a copy of the complaint which calls you into court. My process server told me that it was quite a scavenger hunt trying to find Mr. Carlini.
"Once he did in fact find Mr. Carlini, a chase ensued, and he wasn't speaking metaphorically. He actually had to chase him in order to find him and hand him the papers that we're going to court for in January."
The online Maryland Judiciary Case Search Database shows Carlini did get those papers. And he responded to the lawsuit with his "intention to defend" his case and there was a comment, "I'd like to give explanation at trial."
Since Carlini signed the promissory note, Rommel believes Sakellis will have no problem getting judgement in their favor. However, they acknowledge getting the debt paid might be difficult.
"Yeah, it's going to be a challenge to ultimately collect what's owed," admits Rommel. "It requires finding assets that the debtor might have and collecting those assets, which is sometimes a time consuming and expensive procedure."
We're told if Carlini doesn't have the money, the plaintiff will have to go after his assets, which could ultimately mean just repossessing the kitchen equipment.
However, just before New Year's Eve, images of the equipment popped up on craigslist.
47 ABC showed the ad to Sakellis who confirmed the kitchen equipment featured were his.
He tells us he went out to the Fat Fish Grill on December 30th and found much of the equipment had been moved out of the restaurant.
He notified campus police and then property management changed the locks.
Rommel tells us Sakellis isn't the only person in the area having issues with Carlini, "I've had other people reach out to me in similar situations dealing with this particular individual, but in representing my client, my duties and loyalties are to my client so it would most likely be a conflict of interest if I were to pursue other debts because I have a feeling there is only so much money to go around."
Of those individuals who claim Carlini owes them money, a number are former employees of the Fat Fish Grill in Salisbury as well as the Fat Fish in West Ocean City.
They have gone to state investigators with their experiences, and they shared their stories with 47 ABC, as well. Their allegations are outlined in Part 2 of this investigative report.
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