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Thursday, June 14, 2018 1:00 am

Judge decides part of comedy club conflict

Owner of building gets keys back from GutBusterz lessees

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

An Allen County judge signed an order Wednesday to settle part of an ongoing dispute over a Fort Wayne comedy club.

Tara and Brad Gerig signed a lease agreement in October to operate GutBusterz Comedy & Grille out of the former Snickerz building at 5535 St. Joe Road. Nearly $500,000 in rent has since gone unpaid and the building has been damaged, with repairs expected to cost thousands more, according to court documents.

An order from Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay gives back possession of the club to owner Kevin Ferguson after a two-month court fight over access to the property.

Robert Vegeler, Ferguson's attorney, said the keys were turned over to his client in court Tuesday. Next steps include assessing damage to the inside of the building and continuing a civil case against the Gerigs for unpaid rent, a $2,000 security deposit, more than $74,000 in property taxes and a percentage of the business's net profits, he said.

The five-year lease signed by the Gerigs began Dec. 1, and they quickly got behind on payments, according to court documents.

“You can't occupy a place and not pay rent,” Vegeler said.

Snickerz Inc., which lists Ferguson as its president, filed a complaint April 13 against the pair for breach of lease and for immediate possession. The document also alleges the Gerigs violated an agreement that called for them to contribute $50,000 to an account to pay for renovations to the property.

Court documents filed last week by Vegeler say insurance for liquor and premises liability expired in early May and GutBusterz continued to serve alcohol. A fire in an audio booth inside the building caused thousands of dollars in damage, and the Gerigs were seen removing alcohol and other items from inside the building, the documents said.

Bobay's ruling does not address those claims, but it includes an order that both sides “are mutually restrained from being in the presence of each other” for two years. The judge sent the case to mediation, which must conclude by Oct. 18.

A Nov. 29 trial date was set.

A statement posted to the club's website references “a small electrical fire in our audio room” and says Snickerz failed to fulfill unspecified business obligations.

“Failures and actions” by the owner of the building “contributed significantly to voluntarily return possession to” Ferguson, the statement said.

Vegeler and Robert Myers, who is representing the Gerigs, each declined to comment on those claims, citing the continuing court case.

Myers said his clients are heartbroken.

“They were really excited to start a comedy bar and grill here in town,” he said. “There were some hiccups. Once they opened, it really seemed like they were welcomed.

“They're really just heartbroken that things transpired that kept them from continuing. It's disappointing that it's gotten to this point.”

The ruling from Bobay orders $15,475 for renovations to the building's roof to be set aside. Vegeler and Myers said the judge would decide who gets that money.