BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – The Eastern District of New York must sort out whether a California couple actually coaxed their son to propose to a Brooklyn woman to fleece her parents out of more than $500,000 in restaurant equipment, a federal judge ruled.
In an affidavit, the father of the alleged fiancé called the allegations “a figment of the collective twisted imaginations” of the plaintiffs, and said his son was never engaged to their daughter.
Whether true or concocted, the plaintiffs allege what might safely be called the most elaborate family-hatched con in the restaurant business.
A recent order authorizing the onset of discovery summarizes the allegations.
Natasha Shpak and Simon Curtis met as students at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine in the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, the order states.
In July 2004, Shpak says that she invited Curtis and his then-wife Natalia to her birthday party at her parents’ restaurant Imperator, which she describes as a “well-known upscale Russian-style restaurant and banquet hall” in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach.
About three years later, Natalia lost a long battle with colon cancer, and Shpak claims that Curtis started wooing her immediately after his wife died.
“At his wife’s funeral in California, which Shpak attended, Simon told Shpak he had romantic feelings for her and gave her various gifts,” the order states, describing the allegations. “In March 2007, Natasha attended Simon’s birthday party in California, where Simon informally proposed marriage and told Natasha of his family’s plans to open a restaurant for the couple, to support them in their marriage.”
By April, Curtis allegedly asked Shpak’s parents Rouben Vartanov and Lili Ougoulava to use Imperator’s custom lighting, sound systems, furniture, and kitchen equipment to furnish the California restaurant.
“Vartanov and Ougoulava hesitated to part with the equipment until Simon and Natasha became ‘officially engaged,'” the order states.
Within months, parents Malcolm and Judith Curtis allegedly gave their son Simon a fake diamond ring to propose to Shpak.
“On July 31, 2007, Simon brought Natasha to a dinner at the world famous and historic Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California,” the complaint states. “He professed his love for her once again, got down on one knee and proposed marriage. He placed a large ‘diamond’ engagement ring on Natasha’s finger. Natasha later discovered that the diamond, like the proposal, was a fake. Simon never intended to marry her and the stone was worth only a few hundred dollars.”
Within minutes, he called Vartanov and Ougoulava to announce that they became “officially engaged,” the order states. Shpak’s parents threw an engagement party on New Year’s Eve, where Curtis allegedly gave her fake diamond earrings – also provided by his parents – to match the ring.
In February 2008, Simon paid more than $25,000 to ship Imperator’s equipment to California, placing the more valuable items in his parents’ home, court documents state.
His parents then formed the company Simnat Global, Inc. to hold the assets of a future restaurant that would be called the Edge.
Shpak claims that Simnat is an amalgam of “Simon” and “Natasha,” but her parents say it actually combines “Simon” and his late wife “Natalia.”
Malcolm and Judith Curtis placed 80 percent of defendant Simnat under their own control, and 20 percent under their son’s, the complaint states.
(The Curtis family also owns the company Belzona Communications, another corporate defendant.)
On Easter 2009, two police cars came to the Curtis’ house, and forced Shpak to leave without ever pressing charges against her, she says.
“Simon and Simon’s parents had thus consummated their scheme,” the complaint states. “They had the equipment, no daughter-in-law and her predominately speaking Russian [sic] parents 3000 miles away.”
The Curtis family opened the Edge about two months later, and its website indicates that the son, Simon, eventually became manager.
That December, the plaintiffs sued Simon Curtis in state court, where proceedings are ongoing.
They sued the parents and the corporations in federal court in April 2010.
Malcolm Curtis blasted both lawsuits as “frivolous” in an affidavit.
“There are now two lawsuits pending in New York based on the frivolous notion that Simon breached an alleged oral promise to marry Shpak at an unspecified date … so that my wife and I could trick Vartanov and Ougoulava to ship the worthless and obsolete equipment to California which was stored in California at a cost of approximately $600 a month for almost two years at no charge to Vartanov and Ougoulava,” Curtis wrote.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf ordered the start of discovery on one of those lawsuits, on a slew of charges including fraud, conspiracy, conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of contract.
In a footnote to her 29-page ruling, Judge Mauskopf notes that the defendants deny that Simon Curtis and Natasha Shpak were ever engaged, but she must accept the allegations as true at this stage of the proceedings.
An attorney for the Curtis family declined to comment on the record, except to say that his court papers will reflect the “appropriate denials and defenses.”