Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Help Me Howard: Lentil
We've all eaten out and had a bad experience. Poor service, lousy food, you name it. But one woman's story truly takes the cake when a dispute over the bill lands her behind bars. It's lots-to-do about lentils and it's tonight's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Paola loves to do things.
Paola Roy: "I go out to dinner, I go the beach, I do different things."
And now she can say she has done something really, really different. It began when she had lunch with some friends at an Indian restaurant in Coral Gables.
Paola Roy: "He asked me which lentils I wanted because they had two different kinds, and I said I'd take the black lentils."
The waiter never asked if Paola wanted a large or a small order of lentils. She wanted small. He assumed large and brought it. Then the bill came.
Paola Roy: "And I told him there was a mistake on the bill. I was being charged for a large order, and I had expected to receive the small order."
The difference between the large and small order was a little over $3. They discussed who would budge.
Paola Roy: "He told me that I had to pay the full amount, and that if I didn't pay the full amount he was going to call the police."
Paola paid for the small order of lentils and walked outside. The police were there.
Paola Roy: "There were three police cars from the city of Coral Gables there. OK, apparently I was a danger to society."
An officer walked up.
Paola Roy: "He says, 'I hear you skipped out on a bill,' and I said, 'Well, you heard wrong. I disputed the charge on a bill and didn't pay the full amount."
Paola explained what happened. The officer then talked to the restaurant manager and made his decision.
Paola Roy: "He basically told me that if I didn't pay the three dollars, he would arrest me, that it was considered theft. I said, 'I don't believe you can arrest me for this.'"
The officer then turned her around and handcuffed her.
Paola Roy: "Why would I get arrested for disputing a three dollar charge on my bill? It didn't make any sense to me."
Of course, Paola could have just paid the three dollars, but she says she didn't owe it.
Paola Roy: "Yes, it was the principle of the thing."
The next stop, the Miami-Dade County Jail where Paola was charged with defrauding the restaurant.
Paola Roy: "Fingerprinted, searched intimately in front of everyone that was there, men, women, officers, staff, other inmates."
Paola Roy: "They were the most expensive lentils I had ever purchased because they cost me $500 bond to get out."
Paola laughs, but, trust us, she is still angry and still convinced Coral Gables police should never have arrested her over a three dollar lentil dispute.
Paola Roy: "From the very beginning I assumed it was a civil matter. Like any business dispute, you go to small claims court, or you sue somebody. You don't call the police."
All right, Howard, should Paola have gone to jail over some lentils?
Howard Finkelstein: "At first, when I heard she had gone to jail for this, I thought there must be more to it, but there is not. The officer made a mistake. This clearly is a civil matter. There is no intent here to defraud. This is just a disagreement between a restaurant and a customer, certainly not a crime."
The restaurant manager at House of India said he didn't enjoy calling the police over a few dollars. He just wanted Paola to pay the bill she owed.
When we asked the Coral Gables Police Chief if it was silly for his officer to arrest someone over $3 worth of lentils, he said Paola challenged the officer to take her to jail, and he did. He added he stood by his officer.
We then called the State Attorney's office to investigate. They did and could not find any evidence Paola had tried to commit a crime.
The judge was blunt.
Judge: "It's a civil matter. I don't know who made the charge against you."
Judge: "Officers can make mistakes."
The State Attorney told the judge they wanted to drop the charges, and they did.
Judge: "Free to go."
Paola Roy: "Thank you."
Paola is just happy her long awaited lentil nightmare has ended.
Paola Roy: "I'm just grateful that your show, WSVN, and Help Me Howard, recognize that and brought this to light and help it bring to the attention of the State Attorney's Office."
Paola's next step is to wipe out her arrest record. Since it's her first arrest, she needs to contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and fill out the paperwork. Once her record is sealed, if a company asks if she has ever been arrested she can legally say "no."
Full of troubles but still hungry for help? Place an order with us. We are worthless in the kitchen, but when it comes to cooking up legal solutions, we aren't bad.
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