A tale of broken trust

Published 9:17 pm Saturday, January 10, 2015

An October charge for driving under the influence and felony charges of making false statements were only the beginning of the legal troubles for a former Suffolk wine shop manager.

Harry Randall Withers now is the subject of an annulment suit in Suffolk Circuit Court from a Suffolk woman who says she was bilked out of more than half a million dollars by Withers and married him only because she believed it would help her get her money back.

Like many people in the community, Ruth Baker believed Withers to be the co-owner, and later sole owner, of the C3 Vino wine and charcuterie shop in downtown. In fact, he was never the owner — and that was only the beginning of all the lies he told her, according to her complaint for annulment.

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Baker moved from Maine to Suffolk in September 2012, having recently been widowed from her first husband. She was the winner of an auction earlier that month for a Bank Street mansion that she hoped to turn into a bed and breakfast.

She met Withers soon thereafter, and he began lying to her almost immediately, according to the court papers. He told her he was the co-owner and operator of C3 Vino and that he was waiting on a sizable inheritance from his deceased grandfather’s estate.

Over time, according to the court papers, he began borrowing large sums of money from Baker, supposedly to use to help operate the business. She did not know at that time that he was not the owner of the business.

In the spring of 2013, Withers told Baker and others in the community his grandmother had died and that the family was keeping her death as “low key” as possible, “so distant family members would not get involved in challenging her estate,” according to the court papers.

Withers told Baker he was expecting another large inheritance from her estate.

In early 2014, Withers continued the ruse, telling Baker and others his mother was very ill, court papers allege. In June 2014, he said she had passed away “and that the funeral services were going to be very private.”

Again, he told Baker he expected another large inheritance.

In fact, his grandmother and mother still are alive and well, according to the court papers.

Baker soon began to implore Withers to pay back some of the money, “because she had exhausted almost all the liquidity from her husband’s estate,” according to the court document.

Withers told Baker he had talked to attorneys, who suggested it would be easier for Baker to get her money back from the “inheritance” if they were married. They got married June 27, 2014, in Norfolk.

“It was the intent of the plaintiff that this was done only so she could receive her monies from the defendant,” the papers say. They never lived together.

Withers continued to say the money was on its way. When Baker needed to travel to Florida for her daughter’s medical issues but didn’t have the money, Withers suggested she get a car title loan and that he would pay the loan as partial repayment, she alleges in the suit. He never did, and her vehicle was repossessed and sold.

Finally, Withers said the money was on its way. He claimed that he needed to travel to California to get a check from an attorney and would do so on a private jet. He sent her pictures from inside the jet and the tarmac where the plane landed, both of which later proved fabricated.

“Come to find out, they were just stock pictures you can get on the Internet,” said Baker’s attorney, Randy Raines.

Withers then said he was on his way to Florida with her money and her car. But then he said he needed to return to Virginia, because his sister attempted suicide — which, it was later learned, never actually happened.

When Baker returned to Suffolk in August 2014, she found her house in shambles, her vehicle repossessed, and her checking account overdrawn because he had deposited bad checks and then had written checks on them, the suit alleges.

That was around the time C3 Vino was closed down by the landlord for a default on its lease, according to a sign on the business near the end of August.

Meals taxes were also in default by about $1,200, Treasurer Ron Williams said then, but once the actual owner of the business found out, she paid them.

In October, at the height of Ebola panic, Withers was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Georgia, where he told officials he had recently traveled to Africa and displayed symptoms of the deadly virus.

In fact, he hadn’t left the mainland United States since 2005, according to officials in Georgia. That netted him three counts of making false statements.

He was sentenced to a year to serve and was given the opportunity of doing six months at an inpatient drug rehabilitation program in Virginia.

“I don’t know if he’s coming back (to Suffolk),” Raines said.

Baker was interviewed for this story but did not speak on the record. A message left for Withers’ sister at her place of employment was not returned.

Raines said he has talked with people in Withers’ family and that they were “very contrite and very remorseful.”

In the end, he said, Baker wasn’t the only one taken in by Withers.

“He had a lot of people fooled about his representations,” Raines said. “It’s come as a shock to a lot of people — that people we thought were dead were not dead.”

“You get so deep, you have to believe it,” Raines added, “because the rest is unimaginable.”