Through tears, Dana Tanner, 42, told Judge Christopher J. Frisco that she worked as a fitness instructor and bartender to pay off loans, sales taxes and other debts that have accrued since the loss of his Fourth Street restaurant, Restoration.
Instead of letting the criminal case proceed, Tanner and his attorney asked Frisco to deflect the case, essentially agreeing to dismiss the charges without a conviction if Tanner meets certain requirements.
As Frisco weighed this, he called Tanner’s conduct disturbing. She admitted to using a hacked gas line to run her kitchen after the city shut off hers, although she denied plugging it in herself. And, at one point, Tanner said, she encouraged hundreds of other local businesses to join her in flouting coronavirus rules even as hospitals prepared to ration care in case patients left them. would overwhelm.
Plagued by the pandemic, other restaurateurs faced the same risks of losing their livelihoods, but they didn’t break the law, Frisco said.
“These people lost everything, and I guess in an ironic twist of fate, by not obeying the law, you lost everything too, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Tanner replied.
It was a close call, Frisco said, but he granted Tanner’s request for diversion. He quashed the criminal charges and promised to dismiss them in a year if Tanner pays the city of Long Beach $5,019.89, performs 40 hours of community service and avoids breaking the law until 21 February 2023.
The city attorney’s office previously told Frisco it cost Long Beach $28,471.30 to investigate all of Tanner’s alleged crimes, but after a conversation with attorneys in his firm, the judge ordered Tanner to reimburse only the cost of the crews’ emergency response. gas leak caused by Restoration’s hacked utility line, a figure that amounted to $5,019.89.
The only other Long Beach business to face criminal charges for breaking COVID-19 rules, Bixby Knolls’ Crunch Fitness gym, paid more than that — about $10,000 in penalties — after pleading guilty on four counts.
The decision to end the Restaurant criminal case marks a major turning point in the saga of the rogue restaurant, which has been going on for more than a year.
Authorities first tried to crack down on dining when Tanner began advertising an outdoor New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31, 2020. At that time, outdoor dining was banned in Long Beach and throughout the LA County due to thousands of daily cases of COVID-19. threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Tanner and his employees said they stayed open for survival reasons, arguing take-out orders weren’t enough to keep them going. But as Tanner encouraged other companies to join her in breaking the rules, the penalties grew. Eventually, the city revoked her health license and charged her with 20 misdemeanors.
Tanner said in April that she and city officials tried to negotiate a way for her to reopen legally, but, ultimately, she closed the restaurant permanently instead of closing its doors for six months, admitting wrongdoing and paying all its fines and costs as the city demands.
On Friday, Tanner told Frisco that the ordeal has made her an outcast.
She was “called a murderer in the city” and told her children should die of COVID, according to Tanner, who has two young children, one of whom has autism.
She told Frisco that she started her own business so she could have them dining out with her while juggling school and therapy.
After a fire forced her to close in 2018 and the first wave of coronavirus closures in 2020, Tanner said she couldn’t face the prospect of telling her employees they were out of work again.
“I felt it was my right to operate my business,” she said.
Frisco repeatedly pushed her about it, asking why she deserved to break the law without criminal consequence.
“When other people complied and lost their restaurants and lost everything they had…. why were you different? Why is your case unique? he said from the bench. “Why did you do what you did? What sets you apart from everyone else? They obeyed and you didn’t.
Frisco accused Tanner of “snubbing your nose at the establishment,” but ultimately, he said, Tanner’s fear of not being able to provide for her family or employees — whom she considered a extended family – convinced him to grant her request. for diversion.
“I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s what you did,” he said, noting that Tanner had no criminal record.
Although Frisco has dismissed Tanner’s criminal case for now, there’s still more legal drama surrounding Restoration.
Tanner sued Long Beach last year, asking a judge to compel the city to return his health permit, arguing that authorities had failed to provide enough evidence that the closure of outdoor restaurants had in fact slowed the spread of COVID-19.
With the restaurant already permanently closed, it’s unclear what will happen when this civil case returns to court in June.
Bixby Knolls Crunch Fitness pleads guilty to violating coronavirus health orders this summer