Janice Morse and Jane Prendergast report:
A restaurateur, who recently obtained a deal worth up to almost $1 million in Cincinnati funds for a soul food eatery at The Banks, surrendered Tuesday to authorities on a warrant related to a debt.
Liz Rogers, of Liberty Township, went to the Butler County Jail around noon, officials said. She was released after her husband, Trent, posted $3,104.22 bond on her behalf; she has been ordered to appear in Butler County Common Pleas Court at 1 p.m. March 16 for a hearing in which a creditor is attempting to collect on a debt she was court-ordered to pay in 2010.
Rogers, 42, owns Mahogany’s restaurant in Butler County and plans to open a second location in downtown Cincinnati. City Council approved on Feb. 29 a grant and loan totaling $984,000. Rogers and her husband agreed to first invest their own $50,000 before the city money would kick in.
The financing stirred controversy after revelations about financial issues involving the Rogers couple, including that they owe $49,000 in personal taxes. They also owed $3,900 in property taxes but paid them days before the deal was approved. Rogers formerly worked at the Procter & Gamble Co. Her husband worked at the Ford Motor Co. for 12 years and earned an economics degree at Florida A&M University.
The warrant for Rogers’ arrest was issued in March 2011 by a Butler County judge after she failed to show up for December 2010 hearing on a $3,000 debt she owed to a Hamilton County business, court records show.
Queen City Computer Press Inc., of Blue Ash, was hired to design and publish a website for one of Liz Rogers’ businesses, Brooklyn Spa Services in Forest Park, court records show.
She failed to pay the balance due and didn’t respond to repeated efforts to contact her, Queen City Computer alleged in a court record. Queen City obtained a judgment of $3,000 plus 4 percent interest, which Liz Rogers and Brooklyn Spa was ordered to pay in April 2010; a lawyer representing Queen City filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court to collect the debt.
It was unclear Tuesday whether council members knew about the year-old arrest warrant before they voted to help Rogers financially. Three of nine council members – Chris Seelbach, Christopher Smitherman and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls – voted against the deal, saying there were too many unanswered questions.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said in a Feb. 28 memo to council and Mayor Mark Mallory that Rogers’ application underwent the same review as all such applications. A criminal background check is not part of such reviews, Dohoney wrote. The city did do a credit check, he said, and asked its development consultant, the National Development Council, to review the deal.
Seelbach said he has heard that some of Rogers’ financial problems stem from her identity being stolen. But he said he has not seen any proof of that. The Butler County warrant was unrelated to Rogers’ property or income tax problems, the only two issues he knew about.
“I feel incredibly sorry for this woman,” he said. “It’s my understanding that she was incredibly forthcoming when she came to the administration, that she told them about this.”
His problem is that Dohoney didn’t pass the information along to council. “There’s just an extreme number of questions,” Seelbach said. “I would love to get some of the facts cleared up.”
But in his memo, Dohoney said there was no attempt to hide information.
“The fact that not every detail of a person’s profile is committed to a report is not an attempt to be less than forthcoming,” he wrote. “Risk is always evaluated and at the end we make a professional determination whether to proceed.”
Dohoney’s spokeswoman, Meg Olberding, reiterated Tuesday that the city believes the deal with Rogers was a good one. The city wants diversity in Banks tenants, including unique, locally owned restaurants – not solely chain-owned ones.
To accomplish that in the current business climate, “you have to take some risks,” Olberding said.