Montgomery County prosecutors lay out in chilling detail in new court documents how former Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian wanted to blow up her restaurant in 2009.
Christian was convicted of hiring an accomplice to seriously damage Cena Brazilian Steakhouse, the restaurant she owned at that time in front of the Dayton Mall, so that she could collect a hefty insurance claim. But when she saw what her accomplice Darryl Adams had done, she called him “to complain that there wasn’t enough damage, ‘that she really wanted it blowed up,’” prosecutors wrote, directly quoting trial testimony in their brief filed Thursday with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Christian “wanted the gas turned on and the bottles of whiskey to be broken and set on fire,” prosecutors wrote, quoting trial testimony. Cena shared a retail building with a family-portrait studio and men’s clothing store.
After Christian complained about the extent of the damage, she herself “set fire to the restaurant office, there were two suspicious gas leaks in the restaurant, and additional damage was done to the restaurant,” prosecutors wrote.
“The amount of the new damage was staggering — in the end, it was located in nearly every room in the restaurant, including the rest rooms,” prosecutors wrote.
Christian operated Cafe Boulevard (later the Boulevard Haus) in Dayton’s Oregon District for 15 years in addition to launching Cena in Miami Twp., but today, she is housed in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, where she has served nearly four years of a nine-year prison sentence.
She was convicted in 2012 of five felony counts related to insurance fraud, including a first-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Through appeals, however, the severity of the corrupt-activity count was reduced from a first-degree to a second-degree felony, and one of the insurance-fraud felonies was reduced to a misdemeanor.
Christian was to be re-sentenced last month by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman in light of the reduction in the severity of the charges, but her court-appointed attorney, Brock Schoenlein, appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court in an attempt to throw out entirely the corruption charge against her. Schoenlein is challenging the way prosecutors applied the “corrupt-activity” state statute intended to fight organized crime to Christian’s case.
“The dismissal, and then reinstatement, of Christian’s (corrupt-activities) conviction has raised more questions about Ohio (organized-crime) law then have been answered,” Schoenlein said Monday. “We hope that the Ohio Supreme Court will answer these questions by accepting Eva’s case for review.”
If the state’s highest court accepts the case and rules in Christian’s favor, her nine-year sentence potentially could be cut in half. Prosecutors urged the supreme court justices to reject the case, and they also have said Christian faces possible deportation whenever she is released.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. has said his office will request that Christian’s original nine-year sentence be re-imposed.
“Although a change in the law resulted in a reduction in the severity of the (corruption) conviction from a felony of the first degree to a felony of the second degree, the serious nature of her criminal actions and the danger she poses to the community has not changed,” Heck said in a statement earlier this year. “Accordingly, nine years, as originally ordered by the trial judge, remains an appropriate sentence for her crimes and will result in her serving the same amount of time in the penitentiary.”
In addition to the charges stemming from the restaurant incident, Christian also was convicted of staging a 2009 break-in and theft of items from her Washington Twp. home in order to collect insurance money.
Christian testified at her 2012 trial and denied wrongdoing. She told Judge Gorman prior to sentencing that she “cannot confess to a crime I have not committed.”
But prosecutors presented testimony from police, fire and insurance company investigators and from witness Diane Jones, who testified that she and husband Darryl Adams were part of the scheme developed by Christian to defraud insurers. In their closing arguments at the trial, prosecutors likened Christian to “the little boy who cried wolf — only she was the wolf.”
In announcing her decision to sentence Christian to nine years in prison, Judge Gorman told the former restaurant owner, “I don’t think you have a conscience.”