Nick Cho, Washington’s bad-boy barista, has left the mid-Atlantic region to jump-start the fledgling Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in the San Francisco Bay Area. His move across the country won’t affect the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owes to the District of Columbia and Arlington County; those liabilities will follow him west like a bounty hunter.
“I’m well aware that these are not things that go away,” Cho says from his new perch in Palo Alto, Calif. “I’m trying to get back on my feet. I’m trying to hopefully start a healthy business” that will help pay off his back taxes.
“It’s nightmare that won’t go away,” he adds.
Last year, Cho cut a deal with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General to repay the $190,000 he owes in sales taxes from his Murky Coffee shop on Capitol Hill, which closed in February 2008. Cho agreed to a five-year probation, community service and a repayment plan that started with regular installments of $276. After 11 of them, the payments would balloon to $3,900. According to D.C. Superior Court records, Cho has not made a payment since December 2010.
Which is considerably better than his track record with Arlington County, where Cho has not submitted a payment since 2009, notes Chris Sadowski, deputy treasurer for ligitation in the Office of the Treasurer in Arlington. As of February, Cho owed the county more than $56,000 in meals taxes for his Murky Coffee shop in Clarendon, which closed in May 2009. “The number has likely gone up because of interest,” Sadowski adds.
Because he’s on probation in Washington, Cho requested permission from the court to move to California. D.C. Superior Court agreed to the request on Dec. 15, according to records. The D.C. Office of the Attorney General refused to speak on the record about Cho’s move, because the case is ongoing.
Cho had no legal obligation to seek Arlington’s permission to move, so he did not inform officials there of his relocation. Regardless, county officials were aware of his move, and they’re considering a number of options to make sure Cho pays his Arlington taxes. Sadowski says that the so-called “long-arm jurisdiction” would allow Arlington to seek remedies from Cho, even from his new home across the country.
Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary says the county would first have to seek a civil judgment against Cho in court. A firm that Arlington County retains, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which practices law in California, could then enforce the judgment in courts out there. “The other course would be to proceed as a criminal matter,” O’Leary notes, much like Arlington did last year with the Roberto Donna case, in which the Italian chef pleaded guilty to embezzlement of more than $150,000 in meals taxes from his now-closed Bebo Trattoria.
Cho has no interest, he says, in letting things get that bad, in either jurisdiction. The coffee man says he and his partner, Trish Rothgeb, moved out west to be closer to Cho’s children, who live with their mother in Seattle. He also notes that Rothgeb hails from the San Jose area.
Cho says he didn’t realize he was behind on his payments to the District of Columbia. “I will check on that,” he says. “If there’s a problem, I will resolve it immediately.”
As for Arlington, Cho claims that he tried calling the county a few months before he left for California to work out a plan for his taxes, but never heard back from anyone. He says he can’t pay back money he doesn’t have. Until he and Rothgeb can get Wrecking Ball established and operating, he doesn’t have much ability to generate income. Cho says the company is owned by Rothgeb; technically, Cho’s an employee.
“I’m still trying to figure out a way to make some money and try to get back on my feet,” Cho says. “I want to work it out to everyone’s satisfaction.”
News Researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.