When Boston Celtics legend JoJo White opened a restaurant last year with some business partners, the crowds were out the door and the venture seemed destined for success.
But now, the restaurant called JoJo’s West is closed, hundreds of thousands of dollars are owed to people who may never see a dime and there is an allegation that $800,000 is missing.
New details have also surfaced about the criminal past of JoJo White’s business partner, Chris Barnes, angering many of the people affected by the restaurant’s demise.
“The restaurant itself was booming. There were people who would wait an hour for a table,” recalled Beth Flanagan, who with her husband loaned the restaurant $100,000 to pay for an expansion.
There were other, more experienced investors on board, including Robert Wong, owner of the landmark Kowloon restaurant in Saugus.
“It was comforting knowing that there were other people who were investors who were successful also,” she said. “If they're investing, they have to know their stuff.”
That comfortable feeling didn't last long.
The Flanagans were supposed to be getting monthly payments from the restaurant. On the second month, the check bounced.
“I thought that there was no way on earth checks should be bouncing when this restaurant is very successful. There are people waiting out the door for tables,” she said.
It wasn't just the Flanagans who weren't getting their money.
“W found out that vendors weren't being paid, the rent wasn't being paid, taxes weren't being paid,” she said. “Where was the money going?”
That's a question that has been asked a lot when it comes to Barnes, who together with his wife Lisa ran the restaurant.
Chris Barnes's criminal record begins in 1979 and includes 15 different cases in Massachusetts alone, including larceny, fraud, and forgery, according to records.
In federal court in Georgia, he was convicted of bank fraud and other charges and ordered to pay back $360,726.15 in restitution, court records show.
In Massachusetts, the Secret Service charged him in 1990 with bank fraud, conspiracy, and credit card fraud for his role in a scheme involving stolen credit card numbers and a sports gambling business, federal court records obtained by FOX Undercover show.
Barnes pleaded guilty in that case. A federal judge sentenced him to 87 months in prison and ordered him and a co-defendant to pay $587,203.72 in restitution.
JoJo’s West declared bankruptcy and closed last summer.
In a lawsuit, JoJo White and his wife say that $800,000 is "unaccounted for" and that Chris Barnes and his wife took the restaurant's cash and property for "their own use."
FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet caught up with Chris Barnes.
“JoJo’s West is missing 800,000 dollars. Your investors think you stole the money?” Beaudet asked.
“Not true,” Barnes replied.
“What happened to the money, sir?” Beaudet asked.
“No comment,” Barnes replied. “Go see the federal court. Bankruptcy Court has that. I have no comment to anything else.”
“You have quite a lengthy criminal record. Was JoJo’s West another one of your scams?” Beaudet asked, but Barnes walked away.
Anthony Ianniccheri is one of the many people who are owed money by JoJo’s West. He installed all the flat-screen TV's and says he's still owed $12,000. It's been a crippling debt for him.
“I just can't understand how that one man Chris Barnes can destroy so many lives,” Ianniccheri said. “It pretty much destroyed everything.”
Ianniccheri says JoJo White and his wife at first promised to pay his bill. But now they've stopped returning his phone calls, and his finances are getting worse.
“How about trying to take care of the person that's the little guy, who's fixing to lose his home? Who only makes $44,000 at best in a year. How can that person be taken care of? I'm just at a loss.”
Also at a loss is Beth Flanagan, who fears her $100,000 loan is gone for good. She says the Whites knew about Chris Barnes past, and didn't tell her.
“I'm very upset with the Whites that they didn't disclose that information to us. It was important enough information that we should have been told it,” she said.
“Why do you think JoJo White stood by this guy?” FOX Undercover’s Beaudet asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Why would he even start a business with this person? That's my big question. Why?”
The Whites declined interview requests but their attorney said, “I am confident that when all this litigation is concluded my client will come out of it without being implicated in any wrongdoing or dishonesty."
The restaurant re-opened last summer with a new name but run by Lisa Barnes. It didn't last long, though. The new restaurant closed for good earlier this month for not paying its rent.
Many of the people who involved want law enforcement to step in. A spokesperson for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office says it’s reviewing the matter.