Partners Rush to Sever Ties With Accused Child Pornographer Alex Capasso

"Capasso is definitely not getting any funds from Crow & the Pitcher," says a spokesperson for the Rittenhouse restaurant.

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There’s an old saying that goes: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. We’re not entirely sure who coined that phrase, but we’re fairly certain they never contemplated the dilemma faced by acclaimed Rittenhouse restaurant Crow & the Pitcher, whose chef-partner Alex Capasso was arrested on July 20th, facing horrific child pornography allegations.

There have been examples of other Philadelphia restaurateurs running afoul of the law — Neil Stein and Farmers’ Cabinet’s Matt Swartz come to mind — but their crimes paled in comparison to the accusations against Capasso, which we found difficult to read.

When we shared news of Capasso’s arrest late on Friday afternoon, commenters were quick to weigh in. “The thought of him touching my food is grossing me out,” wrote Anne Frey, owner of Rittenhouse bar 1 Tipping Place. Another Rittenhouse woman who knew Capasso wrote that she was “shocked and sickened,” while another woman acquainted with Capasso at Crow & the Pitcher said that she was “shocked and disgusted.” Others predicted a quick demise of the restaurant.

Then longtime Philadelphia publicist George Polgar, who was hired last week to do crisis PR for Crow & the Pitcher, weighed in with this thought: “Let’s make sure not to take it out on Capasso’s other innocent victims — his partner Michael Franco and the staff of Crow & The Pitcher!”

It’s a perfectly valid point. Crow & the Pitcher employs hardworking servers, busboys, bartenders and kitchen staff who rely on their jobs there to pay their bills and support their families. And partner Franco doesn’t deserve to lose his stake in the restaurant due to the fact that his business partner is accused of doing disgusting things the likes of which you’d see on a hard-to-watch episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

At the same time, though, Capasso was a founding partner of Crow & the Pitcher, and he was a partner in the restaurant at the time of his arrest. So isn’t it reasonable for the public to be concerned that by enriching the restaurant, diners are effectively funding Capasso’s legal defense?

“We have directed Michael Franco to exercise a clause in the partnership agreement which handles this issue,” wrote Polgar in response to that question. Polgar cited a morals clause, and added, “Capasso will undoubtedly be cut off from the restaurant’s finances… It would be a blessing to the innocent partners and staff if his infamy did not take them all down in flames.”

That was on Saturday. On Monday, we asked Polgar to clarify Capasso’s involvement with Crow & the Pitcher.

“While ownership issues are murky, Capasso is effectively NOT RECEIVING ANY FUNDS,” Polgar responded via text message, indicating that the remaining ownership was scheduled to meet with an attorney on Monday morning. Later in the day, Polgar told us that “Capasso is definitely not getting any funds from Crow & the Pitcher… but public statements about Capasso’s partnership status threatens the PLCB license.” After that, Polgar said, “They don’t want change in ownership to void their liquor license.”

Capasso is one of three owners of the liquor license behind Crow & the Pitcher, assigned to the APM Restaurant Group LLC. But according to veteran liquor license attorney Ed Taraskus, the Crow & the Pitcher should be able to get Capasso off the license without any problem, assuming they can force him out of the company.

As Taraskus explains it, all the LLC has to do is notify the PLCB within 15 days as to a change of corporate structure. “I don’t understand why they would worry about voiding their liquor license,” he says. And Taraskus points out that if Capasso is convicted, he couldn’t own a liquor license in the state.

But any judgment in the case would appear to be a long, long way off. Capasso is currently housed in the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center at Seventh and Arch streets, awaiting extradition to Washington D.C., where the U.S. Attorney’s office is handling the case. Capasso has been charged with one count of receiving child pornography, but according to a court document, he will “likely be facing additional charges for Production of Child Pornography.

Meanwhile, it’s going to be one long summer for Crow & the Pitcher.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.