SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal class action accuses the owner of a chic San Francisco music and event space of conning clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Oct. 21 lawsuit from lead plaintiffs Matthew Figures and Colleen Devlin calls Tibor Szabo, owner of Hayes Valley’s Salle Pianos & Events, “a renowned con artist with a long history of swindling legitimate San Francisco business men and women by surreptitiously ingratiating himself into their social sphere through the pretext of operating as a respectable arts dealer.”
Co-defendant Salle Pianos & Events describes itself on its Facebook page as “the only endeavor in North America” specializing in restoring and selling European art-case and period pianos. Photos show a small, stylish space used for concerts and gatherings.
But plaintiffs Figures and Devlin claim Szabo solicits deposits for pianos that do not exist or are never delivered, and does not issue refunds.
They claim that Salle Pianos & Events – which they call a racketeering enterprise – holds classical music performances to attract new clients for Szabo.
In an interview, Szabo acknowledged some matters of financial dispute and said he is determined to clear up them up. The Oct. 21 lawsuit also claims sexual impropriety, which Szabo denies.
Szabo told Courthouse News that he “150 percent” denies the sexual assault accusations.
“There is no way I am a scam artist,” Szabo said, adding that he has earned a large amount of support from customers, as reflected on his Yelp page.
To bolster a racketeering claim, the second and third pages of the 17-page lawsuit cite more than a dozen lawsuits against Szabo in the past decade.
Court records show several lawsuits, including:
that Szabo was sued in 2010 for allegedly failing to deliver a 1930 Gaveau piano the plaintiff agreed to buy for $57,000;
that he was in sued 2007, accused of not delivering several dining room tables;
and that he was accused in 2003 of selling a woman’s piano without her consent.
San Francisco Superior Court records show at least 15 cases in which Szabo is a defendant.
Salle Pianos & Events has a glowing 4.5 star score on the consumer review website Yelp.com.
“Having live music played alongside the Chaplin short films made for a memorable night,” one review states.
“Faith F.” of Burlingame called the venue a place with “a quintessential San Francisco vibe with an other-worldly atmosphere.”
“Owner Tibor went out of his way to create a look and feel for my event that fit my vision,” she added.
There are a few scathing reviews.
“Terri E.” of San Francisco called her friend’s wedding experience a “NIGHTMARE!!!!” because the space was not clean and the food was mediocre.
At least four reviews from “Colleen D.” of Indianapolis have been removed from Yelp for violating content guidelines, according to the website. One, dated Oct. 15 and viewed by Courthouse News before it was removed, details an accusation of sexual assault.
In the Oct. 21 lawsuit, Devlin claims that Szabo sexually assaulted her in September.
Szabo has not been arrested this year for sexual assault, according to the San Francisco Police Department.
According to exhibits filed by the plaintiff’s attorney, Alameda-based Timothy Rumberger, Szabo was charged with felony domestic violence in 2012 and has had at least four restraining orders issued against him.
The 2012 felony charges were dropped to misdemeanor false imprisonment, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Szabo says he was trying to prevent his former girlfriend from driving drunk.
Szabo acknowledges the lawsuits regarding his pianos, and says he’s paying the plaintiffs. He told Courthouse News that none of those incidents were malicious or intentionally fraudulent.
“I’m actually very grateful if I can get my side of the story. It is very much the opposite [of what the lawsuit alleges],” Szabo said in an interview. “Don’t get me wrong, there are issues – I’m going to take care of what I legally owe people. But there is no way I am a scam artist like they are saying.”
He added: “I could go on for 185 pages. Please see my huge support on Yelp that is real and sincere.”
The plaintiffs, who say Szabo is not U.S. citizen, want him deported, and seek class certification, restitution and treble damages for RICO charges, “violent assaults [and] threats of blackmail.”
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