Bust up: Restaurateur faces felony charges stemming from dispute over bounced check

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J.F. Legault faces felony charges relating to an August incident outside Escafé. Courtesy subject J.F. Legault faces felony charges relating to an August incident outside Escafé. Courtesy subject

A prominent local restaurateur and event planner is facing trial on two felony charges stemming from an August incident that began in a Downtown restaurant.

Jean-Francois Legault, owner of The Event Company and the now defunct Glass Haus Kitchen and X Lounge restaurants, has been charged with abduction and strangulation of a former customer after a late-night dispute erupted over a bad check.

At a preliminary hearing in Charlottesville District Court on Thursday, January 16, the alleged victim, Reginald L. “Reggie” Wells, offered his account of the altercation that led to the charges against Legault.

According to Wells, the incident began when Legault approached him inside Escafé restaurant on Water Street around 11pm on Saturday, August 18. Legault told Wells he was angry about a bounced $640 check Wells had written to The X Lounge—a matter that had already resulted in a larceny charge against Wells.

Wells, who has since been convicted of a misdemeanor for that offense and has served two weeks in jail, according to Charlottesville Circuit Court records, said Legault offered to subtract court costs from what Wells owed if he would pay the balance that night. Wells initially agreed to settle up that night, he testified, but then changed his mind because of the charges against him.

According to Wells, that’s when the interaction escalated. Legault said, “Let’s take a walk,” Wells testified. Legault put his arm around Wells’ shoulders and guided him out of the restaurant into the courtyard and beyond to the Water Street sidewalk where Legault’s arm shifted from Wells’ shoulders to his neck as the pair walked east.

“He tightened his grip all the way down the street,” said Wells, who explained he initially went outside with Legault hoping to defuse the situation. Wells demonstrated for the court the one-armed chokehold Legault allegedly used to propel him down the street, and Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elizabeth Killeen presented photos of bruising on Wells’ neck as evidence of the injury he suffered from Legault’s grip. Wells said that while it became more difficult to breathe with Legault’s arm around his neck, his airway was never entirely cut off.

Wells’ friend Michael Lewis, who was also at Escafé that night, testified that when he got ready to leave the restaurant to go home, he couldn’t find Wells and went outside looking for him. He said he saw Legault a short distance down the sidewalk with his arm around Wells’ neck. When he approached Wells and Legault, he said, Legault made a threatening statement toward Lewis.

“He said, ‘Get the hell out of my face or I’ll hurt you, too,’” said Lewis.

Wells testified that Legault eventually released him, and he approached a passing police car to report the incident then returned to Escafé where he told the bouncer what had happened. Legault did not testify during the preliminary hearing, but in an e-mailed statement sent after the hearing, he vigorously denied Wells’ account and expressed appreciation for support from friends and family.

“We live in a world where it is very easy to accuse somebody of wrongdoing,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, I will now need to defend myself against these allegations in court. Given the facts and witnesses of this case I feel very confident in my ability to do that.”

The pending case is not Legault’s first scrape with the law. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to embezzling from another local event planning company, and he was convicted of misdemeanor assault in Charlottesville General District Court in May 2011. Court records show that conviction was amended to disorderly conduct on appeal in Charlottesville Circuit Court in November of that year.

Denying a motion by Legault’s attorney Jessica Phillips to dismiss the current charges against her client, or to drop the abduction charge and reduce the felony assault to a misdemeanor, Charlottesville District Court Judge Bob Downer certified the charges to grand jury. Legault is scheduled to appear in Charlottesville Circuit Court on February 18, when the case will be set for trial. If convicted of both counts, Legault faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

 Correction: The bad check was written to The X Lounge, not to The Event Company.

 

 

 

 

 

  • RandomThoughts

    How odd that in the same general area , same town …………

    Two “known” assaults , but the charges seem to be way different given one had pictures and this one just seems to be he said she said .

    Felony assault and abduction ? I wonder what makes the two recent cases so different that the charges seem to be so different .

    I think I may know .

  • DTGirl

    Not the owner. Married to the co-owner, thanks.

  • Cville Resident

    Why the grossly different charges in this case compared with the attack that occurred on the Downtown Mall around last Christmas? One suspects political correctness at the Charlottesville police department.

    In the Mall assault two men, complete strangers to their victims, picked up a man and threw him to the pavement, and kicked and punched him to unconsciousness, laughing as they did it. One of them struck his girl friend when she tried to intervene.

    The police charged the two men with a misdemeanor carrying at most a year in jail. Police Chief Timothy Longo said the attack was only a misdemeanor because there was — get this — no indication the men intended to cause serious harm. You can’t make this stuff up. Read more about it at
    http://www.cville.byethost5.com/DowntownMallAttack.htm

    • RandomThoughts

      You don’t see the difference ?

      It’s right in front of you in Black and White .

      • the platypus

        You must have had the good fortune to never have entered a general district court room on a day when criminal cases are being heard. I have many times for various reasons.

        Mostly what you see in court are defendants who are relatively young black men who have been charged with things that are very often overlooked if the cops catch white kids of the same age doing them.

        I’ve been let go after handing the cop who pulled me over my weed. No ticket, no nothing. Plenty of white friends have told me the same. If they don’t mouth off or otherwise act like morons, don’t look too weird, or go way out of bound by committing multiple crimes white kids can do a lot without getting into real trouble, especially if they are well dressed. The reality is that black kids just don’t get cut that same slack. Maybe things are different over in the Valley and I doubt it, but that’s the way it is here.

        Once things get to court those black kids have public defenders if anything representing them (which is often why they are in court in the first place, not every goes if they can get it worked out in other ways). Not such a great position to be in.

        It’s just amazing what I’ve heard of people getting away with by hiring the right lawyers. There was some doubt as to whether Huguely would be convicted and he’s still working on an appeal. If he were black and or represented by a public defender, he would be well on his way to execution or life in prison. He only got 23 years in the first place for drunken stupid raging murder.

        • RandomThoughts

          Correct , I don’t make it a habit to end up in a court room . Though I was issued a Subpoena as a witness in Feb of last year for an utterly ridiculous reason costing me a day lost from work ( I will take some advice from the black community next time and I ain’t seen a damn thing ) . I don’t recall a single person of color in a packed court room overflowing into the halls in Staunton , I watched many people shuffled in front of a judge for victim-less crimes to support our prison for profits agenda though.

          With that said , the comment that you are responding is pointing out just the opposite of what you speak when it comes to racial disparities. It appears to me the Commonwealth has done just the opposite all things considered.

          Some questions I would have in reference to your comment would be why are so many young black kids poor that just happen to also end up in trouble ? Why would a public defender be inclined to defend anyone any less vigorously if they have a case where the person in not guilty of what they are accused and lastly why do you feel you were cut some slack with what you describe to me as also victim-less crimes ?

          We agree on Huguley in reference to the light sentence , His legal team got him to where he is ( just like ol OJ ) . I do not support the death penalty but I certainly feel Huguley belongs behind bars the rest of his life . I have no sympathy for the violent animal .

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