Pabs Sembillo, co-owner of Asiatique Restaurant, is being sued for embezzlement by the Louisville Originals, a coalition of local independent restaurateurs.

Sembillo served several years as treasurer for the group before he was relieved of his duties in 2012 after an audit discovered numerous financial improprieties.

According to the group’s lawyer, Artie McLaughlin, Sembillo embezzled an estimated $42,000 from the group from 2009 to 2012 through multiple checks written against the group’s account and ATM and teller withdrawals.

According to Louisville Originals president Maggie De La Torre, the group was “shocked and hurt that he would do such a thing. It was something we really didn’t want to believe.”

According to a memo sent to Louisville Originals members, Sembillo admitted to the malfeasance and accepted the group’s offer to return the money without consequence. However, when the money had not been returned by October of 2012, Louisville Originals members chose to prosecute.

The board later terminated Asiatique’s membership in the organization.

“We’re a group of friends, so we never expected one of our own would do such a thing,” said De La Torre, who co-owns De La Torre’s Spanish Restaurant and La Bodega Tapas Bar with her husband. “We thought that he’d pay the money back, but when he didn’t, he left us with no choice.”

According to McLaughlin, when an April 2012 internal audit revealed multiple unauthorized withdrawals had been made against Louisville Originals’ account, Sembillo admitted he’d made them. That the withdrawals were so numerous and for such “round numbers” made it fairly obvious the transactions were for personal uses, he added.

“If he’d been writing checks to pay off a vendor, they wouldn’t have been even numbers, it would have been something like $2,986.12,” said McLaughlin.  “It was obvious that what he did was straightforward larceny. There is no Oceans 11 complexity to this crime.”

After admitting to taking the money, Sembillo told the group’s board he would pay it back, but didn’t map out a plan for repayment.

McLaughlin said Sembillo told the board personally, through email and text messages he wanted to make good, but by early fall of last year, no money was returned.

In October 2012, McLaughlin sent Sembillo a certified letter saying the board reserved the right to take him to court should he not deliver on his promise to repay the money. When no repayments were made, the board moved to prosecute.

On Friday, Sembillo will be charged in Jefferson Circuit Court with conversion, fraud, breach of fiduciary duties and embezzlement. He was not available for comment.

Dean Corbett, founding member of Louisville Originals, said he couldn’t believe Sembillo didn’t take the group’s generous offer to return the money and avoid criminal charges.

“I mean, how hard would it have been to do that? To avoid jail time for crying out loud,” said Corbett, chef-owner of Corbett’s: An American Place and Equus/Jack’s Lounge.

“These are good people who did all they could to give the guy a break, but he ignored it.

“That’s incredibly disrespectful.”

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.