Baldi watch: Bel Rio owner's absence prompts media scramble
Since the Hook first reported last week on the mysterious disappearance of Bel Rio owner James K. Baldi, local reporters have busily dug up new information that suggests the debonair 47-year-old freelance accountant and restaurateur’s impromptu vacation could become permanent.
It also appears that his 25-year-old traveling companion, Kristian Throckmorton, a former Bel Rio bartender, was indeed the subject of a missing persons report. While Throckmorton’s mother, Wendy Ellis, declined media comment when the story first broke July 20, a story in the Daily Progress reveals that the family filed a missing persons report, an action that appears to have launched a brief police investigation.
However, when the Hook spoke with Charlottesville City spokesperson Ric Barrick on July 27, he said that Throckmorton was no longer missing and had communicated with her family and friends. Barrick said police did not communicate with Baldi.
Ellis, an author who recently penned a book about being the wife of local pastor Lindsay Ellis entitled His Calling–My Purpose, held a reading and book-signing at Bel Rio last December. When contacted most recently, Ellis declined to comment on the missing person report or the nature of her daughter’s temporary disappearance.
The Progress also reported that Gareth Weldon, who, along with the C&O’s Dave Simpson, opened Bel Rio with Baldi in 2008, filed a $300,000 lawsuit against Baldi on July 7, accusing him of using business funds for his own purposes, withholding information on Bel Rio’s financial condition, and failing to pay an agreed-upon capital investment of $50,000 when the three-person partnership was formed. His lawyer, Daniel J. Meador Jr., tells the Hook that Baldi has until August 2 to respond to the lawsuit–- or he'll lose by default.
Baldi was evicted in February from a Downtown Mall office he leased for alleged failure to pay more than $2,200 in rent, and on March 15 a tax lien was filed against Bel Rio LLC by the Internal Revenue Service for about $13,000 in allegedly unpaid taxes, according to C-Ville Weekly, which also reports that on July 16 the state filed a $5,000 lien for taxes the state claims should have been paid from Bel Rio employee wages.
Baldi, through his company Virginia Payroll & Tax, performed financial services for several local restaurants and businesses, though Baldi was barred last August, as previously reported here, by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority from performing financial services for failing to provide information requested by the Authority.
C-Ville also suggested the FBI was investigating the elusive bookkeeper, citing a statement from a hamburger shop owner who was a former Baldi client. However, no one the Hook spoke to, including Bel Rio’s landlord Jeff Easter–- who might have been a first stop in any high-level legal investigation–- would confirm any contact by federal law enforcement; and FBI spokesperson Dee Rybiski told the Hook the same thing she told C-Ville, that it was against FBI policy to confirm or deny the existence of a case.
Landlord Easter was, however, contacted by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, who, according to area ABC spokesperson Roger Stevens, were responding to complaints from neighbors about noise at Bel Rio. Stevens says that Easter, along with L7 owner Lex Gibson, who recently purchased the assets of the Elliewood Avenue restaurant formerly owned by Baldi, “voluntarily” handed over the liquor licenses that were in Baldi’s name. However, Easter told the Hook that agents told him that Bel Rio’s license was being suspended for “inactivity” and asked that it be surrendered. Unprompted, the ABC's Stevens said he couldn’t comment on any “pending investigation.”
Meanwhile, Baldi's sudden departure will likely continue to bring more scrutiny of the ex-restaurateur’s business dealings. And while Barrick confirms that City police are not currently investigating Baldi (though he says the Commissioner of Revenue has submitted a warrant for alleged failure to pay meals tax), County spokesperson Lee Catlin, when asked if County police were looking into Baldi's activities, was uncharacteristically less forthcoming, providing "no comment" on any pending investigation.