PORTLAND, Maine — A prominent Maine chef has pleaded not guilty to charges that she stole and committed check fraud while running a now-closed Portland restaurant with her husband.
Shannon Bard, who was the chef at a well-reviewed Mexican eatery in the Old Port and has appeared on popular TV cooking shows, told a judge Tuesday morning that she is not guilty of felony charges of check kiting and theft.
Shannon Bard, 47, was indicted earlier this month on one count each of theft by unauthorized taking and negotiating a worthless instrument, Class C crimes. Her husband, Thomas Bard, 62, faces the same charges but as Class B crimes.
They are accused of writing dozens of bad checks to Bow Street Distribution between March and June of last year, when their Fore Street restaurant, Zapoteca, was struggling financially. They are alleged to have together written 36 bad checks worth more than $18,000.
Dressed in a black pantsuit and white shirt, Shannon Bard denied these charges and agreed to be released on personal recognizance on the condition that she not contact the alcohol distributor. The chef was not responsible for Zapoteca’s accounts or bookkeeping, her lawyer said after the hearing.
“We’ve been provided no evidence that implicates her in this offense,” attorney Stephen Schwartz said. “She was a chef — and a very good chef.”
Thomas Bard pleaded not guilty to the charges against him last Tuesday, according to the court clerk’s office. Schwartz said he is not representing the older Bard and could not comment on his role in the alleged crimes.
Shannon Bard is scheduled to have a dispositional conference on Jun 7. Despite her husband having reportedly notified the court that he’d moved to Massachusetts, she continues to live with her children in Kennebunk, Schwartz said.
If convicted, Shannon Bard faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Thomas Bard faces up to 10 years in prison and fine of up to $20,000. Both also could be ordered to pay restitution.
The Bards closed Zapoteca in June, saying they wanted to focus on their family life and other businesses, the Kennebunk restaurant Toroso, which they also closed later that summer.
They are also facing lawsuits from vendors who say the couple left a wake of unpaid bills behind their shuttered businesses, the Portland Press Herald reported.