Convicted restaurant owner should stay in prison, prosecutors say

Each time Miami Twp. fire investigators and insurance adjusters returned to Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in Miami Twp. to investigate a 2009 vandalism complaint by its owner, Eva Christian, they discovered escalating amounts of damage to the place that wasn’t there on previous visits, according to Montgomery County prosecutors, who this week filed their rebuttal to Christian’s appeal of her conviction and sentencing.

Christian, the former owner of the now-defunct Boulevard Haus (previously Cafe Boulevard) restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon District for a decade, was convicted May 22, 2012 of five felony counts related to two incidents of insurance fraud, including the suspcious and escalating damage at her restaurant. The case revolved around break-ins and a fire during 2009 that Christian reported and which prosecutors said were staged in order to collect insurance money: a reported break-in at her Washington Twp. home and a reported vandalism and fire at Cena restaurant near the Dayton Mall.

On Aug. 1, 2013, Christian’s court-appointed attorney, Brock Schoenlein, filed an appeal with the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals asking the court to overturn Christian’s five felony convictions. Schoenlein contended that the trial court judge, Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman, made multiple errors during Christian’s May 2012 trial that should prompt the appeals court to order a new trial or to shorten Christian’s nine-year prison sentence.

The attorney argued that the jury’s guilty-on-all-counts verdict was “against the weight of the evidence” presented at the three-week trial, and that Judge Gorman improperly allowed prosecutors to introduce as evidence items seized during a search warrant that was based on a flawed affidavit, and imposed a prison sentence that was too harsh because the judge failed to take into consideration changes in Ohio sentencing laws that occurred after the crimes were committed but before Christian was convicted and sentenced.

Testimony by prosecution witnesses during the trial suggested that Christian conspired with two accomplices.

“Christian was the boss of the operation,” prosecutors said in their appeals rebuttal. “She came up with the plan to burglarize her house and vandalize her restaurant so that she could file an insurance claim and receive a large payout. She specified the details of the plan, i.e., when it would be accomplished, how it would be accomplished, and what each of them would do.”

Prosecutors contended there was ample evidence to convict Christian and defended the search warrant and affidavit that led to the warrant as valid and justified. On the sentencing issue, however, prosecutors acknowledged that the appeals court had sided with defendants in the past on similar cases, and asked the appeals court to withhold its ruling until a related case that is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court is decided.

During her sentencing hearing last year, Christian — who testified at her trial and denied wrongdoing — remained defiant about the jury’s decision to convict her, saying she “cannot confess to a crime I have not committed.” Judge Gorman denied Christian’s request to avoid a prison sentence, calling Christian “a dangerous person” and told the former restaurant owner, “I don’t think you have a conscience.”

No date has been set yet for oral arguments before the appeals court. Christian already has served more than 17 months of her prison sentence while the appeals process continued, and is incarcerated in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

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