David Scott Betz, an entrepreneur involved in the proposed youth-oriented billiard hall and arcade complex in the former Finkelstein's store in Towson, has had a series of legal troubles stretching over several years, court records show.
Currently, there is an outstanding arrest warrant for the 30-year-old Jacksonville man, who is accused of writing a bad check in May for $420.
Last year, Mr. Betz was found guilty of battery against a girlfriend, placed on 18 months probation and ordered to attend domestic violence classes. His probation ended this year.
And court records show several civil suits against him, including a $1,400 judgment awarded to a White Marsh couple in a case involving missing family heirlooms.
Asked yesterday about the lawsuits and criminal actions, Mr. Betz declined to comment.
Towson community officials and leaders, meanwhile, were taking cautious stance when asked about Mr. Betz and his proposed Four Corners of Towson.
"I don't have knowledge of the charges," said Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley. But he added, "Since the business is to cater to young people, we want someone of high moral character."
Kenneth F. Mills Jr., president of the Towson Business Association, said, "We would be very concerned if there are potential problems with Mr. Betz's past record that may affect his ability to operate his business."
Earlier this week, Mr. Betz called himself a family man and told The Sun that he would be overseeing the operation of the Towson center, and one opened in Jacksonville in May. In Towson, he said he planned to have 10 pool tables, up to 25 video arcade games, a stage for local bands to perform on Fridays and Saturdays, and an ice cream shop with a separate entrance.
But people involved in legal actions against Mr. Betz have a harsh view toward him.
"I was very patient with him," said Charles G. Johnson, who filed charges July 4 after giving Mr. Betz time to make good on a $420 check that was cashed at the Valley Wine and Liquor Store in Baldwin. "Then I couldn't find him."
Patricia Elaine Swift of Cockeysville, the victim of the battery in 1994, said, "I am afraid of this man," according to charging documents.
At the time, Mr. Betz was married, although estranged from his second wife. He was divorced from his first wife in 1989.
His second wife is caring for their 3-year-old son. His three older children, ages 9, 10 and 13, live with his parents.
In May, Donald and Kathy Pelle of White Marsh won a $1,400 judgment against Mr. Betz in Baltimore County District Court.
They said they lost antiques and keepsakes that belonged to Mr. Pelle's 90-year-old mother after they sublet a basement from Mr. Betz to store the goods. When he was evicted from the Perry Hall house for failure to pay rent, their property was removed and many items were never recovered.
Mrs. Pelle said they still haven't been paid. "We went through hell," she said.
"I'm the biggest sucker . . ." said Shelia Ronquest of Hawthorne in eastern Baltimore County. "He used us in such a way. It was incredible."
She said Mr. Betz answered a newspaper ad to buy her boat. After working out a payment plan with her, he convinced her to keep her name on the paperwork.
When he failed to keep up payments, she ended up spending months looking for him to get the boat back. And she had to pay the marina costs.
"She got stuck with the bill," said Rick Mervine, general manager of the Chesapeake Yachting Center in Chase where the boat was kept.
In the past six years, Mr. Betz also has been found guilty of driving while intoxicated and had his driver's license suspended.
He has been charged with several counts of passing bad checks and theft. In those cases, the charges eventually were dropped.
Jack Finkelstein, one of the owners of the Towson landmark that is being leased for the entertainment complex, said he thought Mr. Betz's father, Donald G. Betz, would be operating the business since he signed the leasing agreement.
Donald Betz also has had previous problems with the law.
Last year, he and his son, Stephen J. Betz, former owners of an Edgewood mobile home park, were ordered by a Harford County Circuit Court judge to pay nearly $43,000 in refunds to 75 tenants whose rights were violated in 1987. The Betzes also were ordered to pay the state nearly $16,000 in civil penalties.
Donald Betz would not comment on the matter yesterday.
LeRoy Y. Haile Jr., a longtime Towson Realtor who expressed concern about the teen center, said, "It looks like a cloud. . . . What is the whole world coming to?"