THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Nearly two months after being found not guilty of felony theft charges from the iconic Tony Packo restaurant, Tony Packo III returned to a Lucas County Common Pleas courtroom Tuesday with hopes of sealing the record in criminal court.
Judge Frederick McDonald granted Mr. Packo’s request to seal the record, meaning the case will be erased from the public forum.
However, the judge excluded trial transcripts from the order, noting that there remains a related civil case pending and, according to the court-appointed receiver in that case, an IRS audit.
Mr. Packo said little after the hearing, only that he was looking forward to a “good holiday.” His attorney, Jerry Phillips, added that both he and his client are “just happy that this thing is finally over.”
“I’m glad this two-year ordeal has finally come to an end,” he added.
A similar request was not filed on behalf of Mr. Packo’s co-defendant in the case, Cathleen Dooley.
Mr. Packo, 39, who is the grandson of the firm’s founder, and Ms. Dooley, 47, had been accused of stealing more than $170,000 from the restaurant company over a four-year period. A jury of seven men and five women found them not guilty after considering the testimony of 20 witnesses and more than 300 documents that had been presented over a period of seven days.
The county prosecutor’s office initially opposed the request to seal the records. In a four-page response, the state cited two reasons: an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the company and extensive media coverage basically nullified the defendant’s privacy interest.
The response stated that witness testimony during the trial indicated money was paid to Mr. Packo but was not reported as income on tax forms. Testimony was also elicited that some company employees were paid “under the table,” the document said.
“Given that the IRS is conducting an investigation of the Packo business and of the defendant and may need access to the exhibits and other documents filed in this case, the State submits that the IRS investigation is a legitimate need for the criminal case to remain open,” the document said.
Judge McDonald said he was unclear why the prosecutor’s office was “so solicitous of the interests of the IRS.” He said as a provision of his order to seal the record, the transcripts of the case could be accessible.
Assistant County Prosecutor Kevin Pituch noted in court the state would have no objection if the official transcripts were available if necessary.
Prior to the start of Mr. Packo’s criminal trial in September, the Tony Packo company was embroiled in civil litigation. The company was placed in receivership in August, 2010, shortly after Robin Horvath, Mr. Packo’s cousin and a key witness in the criminal trial, filed the first of several civil lawsuits and in response to the company going into default on its bank loans.
Tony Packo’s Inc. was sold in February to Bob Bennett LLC, the owner of a local fast-food franchise.
Since the sale, Mr. Packo has continued to work for the company as vice president of restaurant and retail operations.
In court Tuesday, Mr. Phillips acknowledged Mr. Packo’s criminal case attracted a large amount of media attention and as such, will never be fully sealed from the public view.
He added that Internet presence should not preclude the judge from sealing the record.
“Unfortunately we can’t undo the publicity of the indictment and the prosecution, but we can limit the damage done by having the record sealed,” he said.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.