NEWPORT — Kurt Lent, of Newport, is charged criminally with operating his Seal Rock pizza parlor without the required state restaurant license. At his arraignment Monday in Lincoln County Circuit Court in Newport, Judge Sheryl Bachart made it a condition of his release that he not do so.
Though Underground Pizza Network’s website listed the business as opening at 2 p.m. Tuesday, the restaurant appeared to be closed at that time. The open sign in the pizza parlor’s window was not illuminated by 2:25 p.m. Tuesday, and the red sandwich board advertising the business that is usually placed near the northbound shoulder of Highway 101 was not displayed.
A potential customer tried the restaurants front door just after 2 p.m. but said it was locked.
As the News-Times reported March 23, Lent’s Underground Pizza Network displays signs that ban state and local health authorities from entering the restaurant under threat of prosecution, and he was cited by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on March 12 for not obtaining a restaurant license through the local health department when he took over the establishment in January. It was open for business since then, never having been inspected for food safety.
The restaurant was formerly named Ballantoni’s New York Pizzeria, whose owner, Aaron Kimball, did obtain a license in April 2020. Although Lent’s wife, Rita Kartalyan, a real estate agent with Taylor and Taylor Realty Co., originally registered the business under the name Ballantoni’s, Kimball told the News-Times he did not sell the name, and he was no longer affiliated with the business. Kartalyan later amended the registration to Underground Pizza Network, owned by Kartal Homes, LLC.
Lent responded to the March 12 citation with a certified and notarized letter to the director of environmental health on March 22 (in which he apparently mistakes her for the director of the health department), threatening her with criminal and civil penalties, accusing her of theft and other offenses, and demanding that she answer a list of questions “by hand in blue ink.”
It was, in fact, the second such letter from Lent, and both followed a Feb. 9 contract proposal, in which he offered to pay his license fee if the department would make the business “exempt of any oversight or inspection of Lincoln County Health and Human Services.” The department could not make such an agreement, and a check Lent included with the contract was returned to him.
In a March 11 letter, Lent submitted questions that suggested the director of environmental health provided false information about him to Oregon Occupational Safety and Health and violated a contract. He claimed failure to answer questions would be an admission of guilt, that failure to return the questionnaire would be felony theft, and said the environmental health director owed him $7,500 for his legal work in “processing this case.”
In his March 22 letter, the pizza parlor owner reiterated the accusation of felony theft and said more than $13,000 was now due for his legal fees, including late charges. He also included a copyright symbol with each mention of his name and said he had “every intention of exercising the powers of this copyright against you.”
Lent wrote, “You will slither to your Lincoln County Council (sic) … You will have a smile on your face, right up to the point Lincoln County Council discovers that in fact, that copyright is in fact perfected. They will throw you to the wolves, and I am hungry.”
He told the environmental health director he intended to “make an example” out of her and said even the queen of England had mocked Lincoln County leaders. “It was entertaining to say the least watching that old criminal called a queen make light of your department,” Lent wrote.
Lent ended the letter, “A storm is coming, see how beautiful it is?”
During his arraignment Monday, Bachart asked Lent if he wanted an attorney to be appointed.
“For what reason, your honor?” Lent asked.
Bachart explained that he was charged with the Class C misdemeanor of operating a restaurant without a license, for which the maximum penalty is a $1,250 fine and 30 days in jail.
“I just need to know how you wish to proceed with respect to representation,” the judge said.
Lent said, “I can’t proceed with anything until I understand the nature of the charges against me. Is this a civil matter?”
Bachart told him it was a criminal matter, as were all the cases called before her that morning.
“So what’s the jurisdiction it’s to be prosecuted under? Is it the common law?” Lent asked.
“No, it’s a criminal code. Sir, all I’m going to do is the same as I did for every case that you heard me call before yours,” Bachart said, with Lent interrupting her to say he was not like everyone else and needed to know the nature of the charges, citing the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“This is your first appearance on this charge. All I’m going to do today is schedule it for a status hearing. You’re presumed to be innocent of this charge unless and until the state proves your guilt beyond — sir, it doesn’t help if we both talk at the same time,” Bachart said, Lent interrupting her again to ask, “If I’m presumed innocent, why do I need this?”
Bachart said, “You’re charged with a criminal offense. I’ve explained your right to representation, and I’m trying to explain your right to remain silent. I’m trying to explain to you other constitutional rights that go along with a person who’s charged with a crime. I’m not here to discuss the merits of the charge … this is a first appearance, you need to go through the booking process, and I’m trying to ascertain whether you want an attorney.”
Lent asked why he needed to go through the booking process if he was presumed innocent.
“Every person who’s charged with a crime needs to go through the booking process,” Bachart said. “The option is, if you don’t do that, you’re held. The options are they can arrest you and hold you, or you can execute a conditional release agreement.”
David G. Arganian, a defense attorney seated at the counsel table for court appointments, explained something to Lent, after which Lent said he would ask for a court-appointed attorney. Bachart provisionally appointed Arganian.
Arganian asked that a not guilty plea be entered on Lent’s behalf, and Bachart scheduled a status hearing on May 17.
Deputy District Attorney Amber Kolsrud asked Bachart to make not operating his business without a license a condition of Lent’s release. “Miss, can you identify yourself?” Lent asked.
“I’m Amber Kolsrud with the state,” she said. Lent asked her to repeat herself several times.
Bachart said, “She represents the state of Oregon or the district attorney’s office in this case.”
The judge granted the prosecutor’s request.
In addition to criminal penalties, a judge can impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for every day a restaurant is open without a license. The county also referred Underground Pizza Network to Oregon OSHA for enforcement. That agency has recently fined several restaurants around the state tens of thousands of dollars for COVID-19 related violations.