Tag Archives: West Berkeley

Troubles mount for Premier Cru as FBI steps in

In December 2011, John Fox was all smiles as he held large scissors to cut the ribbon for the grand opening of Premier Cru's new retail store at 1011 University Ave. Photo: Premier Cru
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The troubles of John E. Fox, the co-owner of the high-end wine company, Premier Cru, are mounting.

The FBI confirmed Wednesday that it is looking into the company, which filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 8 listing assets of $7 million and liabilities of $70 million.

Read more on the Premier Cru story.

“The FBI is investigating claims of a Ponzi scheme involving the Berkeley wine company Premier Cru,” said spokeswoman Michele Ernst. “It appears there is enough evidence that the FBI has determined an investigation is warranted.”

Ernst is asking anyone with complaints, concerns, or tips to email them at a specially created email address, premiercru.complaints@ic.fbi.gov. … Continue reading »

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Police

Update: Man dies after being struck by train in Berkeley

Authorities are responding to West Berkeley for a report of a person who was hit by a train. Image: Google Maps
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Update, Feb. 9, 1:50 p.m. A representative from the Alameda County coroner’s office confirmed that the man who died has been identified, but next of kin has not been notified, so the name is not yet available for public release.

Update, Feb. 8, 3:30 p.m. An Amtrak representative said there were no injuries to the train’s 101 passengers or crew.

Update, 1:50 p.m. Union Pacific spokesman Francisco Castillo confirmed that the train struck a man near Bancroft and Fourth Street shortly before noon. Castillo described the pedestrian as “an adult male trespasser” who was trying to cross the tracks when he was hit. The train was going approximately 20-30 mph. The incident is under investigation.

“The safety message here is that pedestrians, bicycles and cars need to be very aware of the hazards associated with trains and should never be on the train tracks or attempt to cross one without following the proper signs,” Castillo said by email. He said Amtrak might have additional information.

Update, 1:05 p.m. According to the Berkeley Fire Department, a man has died after being hit by a southbound Amtrak train near Bancroft Way and Second Street in West Berkeley. He was declared dead at the scene by fire personnel, said Donna McCracken, Berkeley’s interim deputy fire chief. The incident is now under investigation by railroad authorities.

Original 12:54 p.m. Authorities are responding to West Berkeley following a report that a person was struck by a Union Pacific train between Allston Way and Bancroft Way. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Premier Cru paid its tech staffer in wine

Seven customers are suing Premier Cru, a wine retailer at 1011 University Ave., for not delivering wine they had purchases. Photo: Gordon Commercial Realty
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Update 2/6/16: The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into Fox Ortega Enterprises, which owns Premier Cru.

Court documents filed by the bankruptcy trustee on Feb. 5 disclosed that”the FBI is investigating this matter.” Previously, the FBI Had only acknowledged it was taking calls from disgruntled customers.

Original story: As John E. Fox, the co-owner of the embattled wine retailer Premier Cru was struggling with his company’s enormous debt, he asked if he could charge $25,000 on his IT technician’s credit card.

Brian Nishi, a computer expert who had worked for Fox for 20 years, agreed, according to court documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. But when Fox could not repay Nishi, he gave him $25,000 worth of wine instead, according to court documents.

For that reason, the U.S. Trustee for Region 17 is objecting to the hiring of Nishi to help search through a secret computer that Fox may have used to keep track of his debts. Tracey Hope Davis wrote to bankruptcy judge William J. Lafferty that Nishi, who was also Premier Cru’s in-house tech specialist since 2008, had a conflict of interest. … Continue reading »

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Future uncertain for Berkeley community garden

The garden in the summer. Photo: Ashby Community Garden
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Update Feb. 9: The city of Berkeley has filed an objection to the proposed tax sale of Ashby Gardens, which means the sale will not go forward for now. Now the gardeners and Berkeley will figure out how to raise the back taxes and pay off the county. Once that happens, the land will be put in a trust and kept as open space for 30 years, as required by law.

Original story: For the last 12 years, the Ashby Community Garden on Ashby Avenue near Acton Street has served as a place that brought neighbors together.

Residents transformed two empty plots into a verdant space with room for flowers, vegetables, chickens, bees and a greenhouse. There are now monthly public workshops on everything from fermentation to composting to making natural dyes, musical performances, and the ability to just hang out in the sun and get one’s hands dirty.

But the future of the garden is now uncertain. The owner of the parcels at 1370 Ashby Ave., who gave verbal permission in 2004 for his property to be converted into a garden, has not paid his property taxes for five years. He owes $17,460.52, and Alameda County intends to auction off his land on March 18. … Continue reading »

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Ex Donkey & Goat staffer to face trial for wine theft

A picture of the workers and volunteers helping out on the 2014 harvest. Morgan Hall is in front and Zach Gomber is at the top on the left. Photo: Donkey & Goat
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When Jared Brandt, co-owner of Donkey & Goat Winery, went to do inventory shortly after he fired three employees suspected of stealing wine, he discovered nine empty boxes that had been taped up to look as if they were full.

The empty boxes were hidden on the bottom rows of pallets stacked with 55 cases of wine, according to Brandt, who made the discovery in October 2014. Among the missing wines were numerous bottles of 2005 Broken Leg Pinot Noir, made from a vineyard in the Anderson Valley the year his oldest daughter was born.

“It had sentimental value because it was 12 to 17 bottles of my daughter’s birth year and it’s gone now,” said Brandt. The wine was worth about $700, he said.

Brandt’s testimony about the empty boxes came during a four-day preliminary hearing in Alameda County Superior Court from Jan. 25-29 to determine whether there was probable cause to hold three former employees over for trial. In the end, Judge C. Don Clay determined that Zachary Gomber, 29, who worked for Donkey & Goat on and off for three years, should face two felony counts of embezzlement and receiving stolen property. Clay ruled that Kate Sylvan, who worked in the tasting room once a week for just five months, should also face a felony count of receiving stolen property. But he dismissed the felony embezzlement charge against Morgan Hall, once Donkey & Goat’s tasting-room manager and part-time bookkeeper. Instead, Judge Clay determined that Hall should just face a misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property.  … Continue reading »

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Housing forum: Climate right for development in Berkeley

Denise Pinkston, vice-chair of ZAB and an Oakland-based developer, talks to a group about the housing crisis in the state while Mark Rhoades of the Rhoades Planning Group listens. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The development climate in Berkeley has improved so much in the past six years that there are now approximately 2,500 apartment units in the pipeline — a dramatic change from the two decades between 1970 and 1990 when only 600 units were built, according to experts who spoke at a forum on multi-family development held in Berkeley on Jan. 21 .

The city is no longer looked upon as a place just to build student housing. With its foodie culture, rich history, music and art scenes, ­as well as the ability it affords developers to charge higher rents than in Oakland and other East Bay cities, Berkeley is now a popular place to build.

Read more about Berkeley development on Berkeleyside.

“Berkeley is no longer this campus college market,” said Stephen Lawton, volunteer program leader for the non-profit Urban Land Institute which hosted the event at the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley.  “The hot San Francisco market is finally reaching across the bay in this cycle.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Police make arrest in 2014 Berkeley killing

The killing took place in the parking lot of Seabreeze Market. Photo: Brian Costales
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An Oakland man has been arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the fatal shooting in 2014 of 21-year-old Damarco J. Thomas.

On Saturday, police arrested Keivon Burnette on a warrant in Oakland at 9:25 a.m. after working on the case for more than a year, said Carolyn Jones, East Bay Regional Park District spokeswoman.

Jones said authorities believe the shooting happened when a group from Oakland tried to rob a group from Stockton during what was supposed to be a marijuana sale in the Seabreeze parking lot Oct. 28, 2014. Members of both groups were armed, Jones said.  … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeley marijuana dispensary robbed at gunpoint

The Berkeley Patients' Group has distributed free medical cannabis for years to low-income patients. A new law passed by the  Berkeley City Council codifies this and requires dispensaries to give away 2% of its cannabis to the poor.
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Police are looking for three masked robbers with a gun who tied up a security guard and took several trays of marijuana plants from a Berkeley medical cannabis dispensary over the weekend while the business was closed.

The robbery took place Sunday just before 1:20 a.m., said Officer Jennifer Coats, Berkeley Police spokeswoman, when three people went into the parking lot of the Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) dispensary at 2366 San Pablo Ave., near Channing Way.

A security guard was posted in the parking lot. No other employees were on site.

“The suspects approached the guard, one armed with a gun,” said Coats. “The guard was tied up. The suspects entered the business and forced the security guard to lay on the ground.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Black Oak Books to close after 33 years

Gary Cornell, the owner of Black Oak Books, in the store. Photo: Black Oak Books
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Black Oak Books, which has had a presence in Berkeley for 33 years, is shutting its doors.

Gary Cornell, the math professor and entrepreneur who rescued the storied bookstore in 2008 during the recession and who is still subsidizing its rent, said the store no longer makes financial sense. Its location, at 2618 San Pablo Ave. near Carleton Street, does not draw enough foot traffic and sales have been generally flat the past six years (Although they did go up by 1% in 2015). In addition, Berkeley has raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour, with more increases to come, making it more difficult to run the business.

Read more stories about independent bookstores in Berkeley.

“I wish I could have kept it open,” said Cornell, 62. “But, in the end, you have to say it’s not working.”

The store will close at the end of January, he said. Until then, all the inventory at Black Oak Books — both new and used books — is 40% off. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. … Continue reading »

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Crime

2 arrested after West Berkeley carjacking, robbery

The pedestrian and bicycle overpass at the north end of Aquatic Park in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Police arrested two men early Monday morning after they reportedly brandished knives and carjacked a motorist in Berkeley’s Aquatic Park.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said authorities received a call at 3:10 a.m. Monday alerting them of the incident.

The victim, a man from Hayward, “reported that two suspects brandished knives at him and demanded his property. They also stole his vehicle,” Coats said.

Officers spotted the vehicle as they were responding to the scene, in the northern part of park, and tried to stop it. The driver fled from police with what Coats described as “a wanton disregard for public safety.” … Continue reading »

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Crime

Berkeley police recover 3 loaded guns in car search

Berkeley Police station. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Three men entered “no contest” pleas last week and accepted six-month jail sentences after police recovered three loaded handguns hidden in their vehicle during a car search in Berkeley earlier this month.

On Dec. 6, police stopped the men at about 6:30 p.m. as they were driving near Dwight Way and Acton Street, said Officer Jennifer Coats.

During the stop, police found probable cause to search the sedan, which was occupied by Ulisses Juarez and Orlando Ruiz — 19-year-olds from Concord — and Kelvin Parache, 24, from Bay Point.

Police located a handgun hidden near each of the vehicle occupants. One had been reported stolen out of Fresno. … Continue reading »

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Crime

DNA on red belt loop helps police make robbery arrest

A woman walking with her grandchildren was robbed near Carleton and Acton earlier this year. Image: Google Maps
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An Oakland man has been charged with four felonies after police say he assaulted then robbed a grandmother and one of her grandchildren on a walk in West Berkeley earlier this year.

And a red belt loop that fell off the man’s pants during the robbery ultimately led to his capture, authorities said Friday.

Officers from the U.S. Marshals Service picked up Kac Miller Jr., 19, earlier this week after Berkeley investigators put out the word that they were looking for him. According to court papers, when confronted by Berkeley investigators with the belt loop, Miller confessed to the crime.

The robbery took place back in late March, when a woman police described as elderly was walking with her three grandchildren, ages 2, 10 and 12, around Carleton and Acton streets at about 2 p.m.

A man came up to them and slammed the heads of the woman and her 12-year-old granddaughter together, according to court documents, then kicked them both while they were on the ground. He took the woman’s purse and the granddaughter’s bag, then fled. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Fourth Street Apple store reports theft by 7 males

Opening day: Berkeley's Apple store is located in the city's busy Fourth Street shopping district. Photo: Patrick Nagel
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A band of thieves struck the Berkeley Apple store Friday in what authorities described as a “coordinated effort,” and a problem that has been faced by numerous Apple stores around the Bay Area.

The theft took place shortly before 3 p.m. at 1823 Fourth St. in Berkeley’s popular Fourth Street shopping area.

Berkeley Police Lt. Andrew Rateaver said store employees reported that a group of at least seven males entered the store and, “using a coordinated effort, stole several iPhones and other Apple products.”

A reader told Berkeleyside he “saw a group of kids cut the security cords at the front table of products and make off” with what he estimated to be six iPhones and iPads.

The group then left the store and fled northbound on Fourth Street before witnesses lost sight of them.  … Continue reading »

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