CAPE CHARLES, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- A Cape Charles man was convicted in a bench trial of destroying property belonging to a former girlfriend.
Arthur Willis Bender, 48, did not deny going into the now-closed restaurant he and former girlfriend Lisa Bell operated, pulling out a knife and slashing several of the booths that were used for seating.
He admitted in Northampton County court that he was extremely angry about $10,000 Bell withdrew two weeks earlier from their joint restaurant account, but insisted that he was the rightful owner of the booths.
Bell testified that she bought them for a restaurant she owned in Cape Charles that closed approximately 14 years ago. She said she gave Bender a round booth and table to put in the galley on one of his fishing boats at the time.
The remaining booths were stored along with all her restaurant equipment in a shed owned by Bender in Capeville.
Testimony was that Bender and Bell were together as a couple for nine years. Bender said they began seeing each other while Bell’s Cape Charles restaurant was still in operation.
When it closed, Bell testified she worked without pay in his seafood business, “because we were working toward a common goal,” she told the court.
In 2013, the couple decided to open a seafood restaurant on U.S. Route 13 called Captain Pete's. The restaurant was in business for little more than a year when both the restaurant and the relationship began to fail, the court heard.
Not long after that the restaurant closed, Bell said she decided to donate the booths to the American Legion.
“I was sitting in McDonald’s (across the street) and saw her at the restaurant,” Bender testified. “It was closed. She had just taken $10,000 out of the account. I saw her and her boyfriend pull up with a trailer.”
“I got very angry and sliced the booths. They were mine,” he said.
Testimony in the trial, which lasted for several hours, was that money had been loaned back and forth while the couple were on good terms.
Bell testified she loaned Bender money to buy additional scallop leases and he said he paid more than $20,000 so the house she owned and lived in together would not be foreclosed.
Bender was originally charged with a felony, but Judge W. Revell Lewis III granted defense attorney Paul Watson’s motion to strike some evidence presented by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Thornton concerning the value of the almost 15-year-old booths.
“This will continue as a misdemeanor,” Lewis said.
Bender maintained Bell gave him all the booths when her restaurant closed.
“She gave them to me to put on my boats.” he said.
Bell maintained she gave him only the one round booth but not the others.
Before announcing his finding of guilt, Judge Lewis said of Bender, “He was very angry. It came across today how upset he was that she withdrew money."
“When he saw her across the street, he got upset about the $10,000 and goes to confront her. He pulls out a knife and slashed the furniture. It was a very violent thing to do. If he thought the benches were his, he could have filed a complaint. It was not his property.”
He found Bender guilty of misdemeanor destruction of property.
Thornton asked that Bender be given jail time. Watson asked that any time given be suspended.
Judge Lewis sentenced Bender to one year in jail and suspended all but 30 days. He told him he could serve the time on weekends.
He also ordered that restitution in the amount of $1,506, the cost to repair the booths estimated by a Virginia Beach upholsterer, be paid by June 30 of this year and told Bender he must be on good behavior for three years.
In her testimony, Bell stated her intention to give the benches to the American Legion once they were repaired.