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Jun 17, 2009 10:36 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Police fed up with Pike-Kleefield dispute

Jun 17, 2009 10:36 AM

Southampton Village Police were called to Madame Tong’s restaurant on Thursday afternoon, June 11—they have been summoned on more than a dozen occasions this year—to serve as mediators in the ongoing ownership battle between restaurateur Ed “Jean Luc” Kleefield and local businessman Lyle Pike.

Police Chief William Wilson said it better be the last time.

Chief Wilson personally went down to the restaurant to tell the men to stop calling police over a civil matter. He said the courts must decide whom Madame Tong’s belongs to and, until then, Mr. Pike and Mr. Kleefield should not be getting the police involved every time one looks at the other the wrong way.

In fact, Mr. Kleefield accused Mr. Pike of just that back in April. Village Police arrested Mr. Kleefield that month and charged him with writing two bad checks totalling $295,000 to Mr. Pike last fall. He said Mr. Pike was getting the police involved to expedite a civil matter over loans.

Chief Wilson said police officers and detectives have logged 100 man-hours this year on investigations involving Madame Tong’s and responding to dustups at the restaurant. “I just got to the point where I got down there myself and informed both of the principals involved in the dispute that enough is enough, and I don’t want to hear from them again unless it’s criminal,” the chief said. “It’s summer, and we’re busy, and we don’t have time for it.”

Chief Wilson said that his records show that Village Police have been called to Madame Tong’s some 16 times this year to find Mr. Kleefield demanding Mr. Pike be removed from the property, or vice versa. On a few occasions, the police were called two or three times in one day, he added. “It’s literally like baby-sitting businessmen, and we’re not doing it anymore.”

Mr. Pike says that last year he bought the leases to Mr. Kleefield’s four restaurants­­—Madame Tong’s in Southampton Village, Grappa and JLX Bistro in Sag Harbor and Prime 103 in East Hampton—and he gave Mr. Kleefield some time to continue running the restaurants and buy them back.

Mr. Kleefield says he borrowed money from Mr. Pike but never sold the restaurants. “I needed money to pay some off-season rents, so Lyle stepped in and threw out $212,000,” he said, referring only to the amount he says Mr. Pike lent him for Madame Tong’s. He said he purchased the lease to Madame Tong’s in 2005 for $770,000 and he and his business partners put $800,000 more into the restaurant. He said he values the restaurant at considerably more than $3 million and it would be ridiculous for someone to believe he would sell his lease to Mr. Pike for just $212,000. “He’s never had an inkling of rights to the restaurants,” Mr. Kleefield said.

Mr. Pike has consistently declined to reveal to The Press how much money he is claiming he has lent Mr. Kleefield, but Mr. Kleefield said Friday that Mr. Pike recently admitted it was just $700,000, spread among the four restaurants to pay rent in the winter months. Mr. Kleefield said that last year he paid Mr. Pike back $300,000 in checks and another $100,000 in cash.

“I firmly believe that he will be exposed for what he is,” Mr. Kleefield said, “which is an extremely high-interest lender.”

On multiple occasions, Mr. Pike has had a locksmith change the locks on Madame Tong’s, or at least attempt to change them before police told him to stop. When he has successfully had the locks changed, Mr. Kleefield has changed them right back. Similar back-and-forths have also happened at Grappa, including one on Thursday, Mr. Kleefield said.

What predicated Thursday’s dispute was a decision handed down in Suffolk County Supreme Court on that day, according to Mr. Pike. He said that a judge lifted a restraining order that was sought by Perry Weitz and Arthur Luxenberg: Mr. Weitz and Mr. Luxenberg, of the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, are business partners in Madame Tong’s and Grappa with Mr. Kleefield.

The restraining order, which barred Mr. Pike and Mr. Kleefield from interfering in the operations of the two restaurants and from selling or transferring ownership, was issued on May 22 and stayed in force until an assigned court date on June 11, when a judge lifted the order.

Once the judge made the decision, “Jean Luc basically rushed over there to loot the place,” Mr. Pike said.

Chief Wilson said that when he headed down to Madame Tong’s Thursday, Mr. Kleefield was just standing outside and not “looting.”

Mr. Pike said on Thursday, while he was en route from court in Riverhead to Madame Tong’s, that he would have Madame Tong’s and Grappa boarded up and that they would stay that way for the rest of the season. “I have possession, and that’s the way it’s gonna stay,” he said. “I don’t have a liquor license. Summer season’s over for me.”

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