Published: Feb 14, 2012 08:30 PM
Modified: Feb 14, 2012 08:34 PM
APEX - Keith Adams said he simply wanted to reclaim more than 30 of his paintings that were inside Bistro 155, a restaurant that recently closed.
The attorney for the building's owner had told Adams to wait until an inventory of the building was complete. But on Jan. 31, Adams entered the shuttered restaurant, which he said was unlocked, and left with artwork he said was inspired by a recent battle with cancer.Later that day, Adams, 44, of Angier, was behind bars, charged with breaking and entering and larceny.
"The art I was accused of stealing is my art," he said.
Adams, a former police officer, said he called Apex police to tell them he'd taken the paintings so they wouldn't think they had been stolen. But Apex police Capt. Christopher Myhand said police had urged him to work through a lawyer to get his artwork back and not to take matters into his own hands.
"The fact that he turned himself in doesn't negate the crime," said Myhand.After spending an hour in the Wake County jail, and posting a $50,000 unsecured bail bond Adams was released.
Adams' abstract paintings had brightened up Bistro 155, at the corner of U.S. 1 and N.C. 55, since September, shortly after the restaurant opened. According to Adams, restaurant owner Tommy Williford contacted him by email to ask him to be the resident artist for the new restaurant.
Adams only became serious about making art three years ago when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that collects in bone marrow and diminishes the bones. Before that, he spent 23 years working as a police officer in Cary and for the U.S. Marshals.
In 2010, Adams had a stem-cell bone marrow transplant. He spent the next year undergoing chemotherapy."My artwork is how I supplement my disability," said Adams, who is in remission.
When he agreed to allow Williford to use his art, Adams said he was promised 100 percent commission of any piece that sold in the restaurant.Business failsWilliford is a former employee of his family's business, Williford Funeral Home in Fuquay-Varina, and he ran unsuccessfully for Town Commissioner there in November. On the Facebook page for his campaign, Williford said "I want to bring a bit of common sense to town government, a voice that would help run the town as if they were a business."
But Williford's restaurant didn't do well. He stopped paying rent in November, according to Whitfield Gibson, attorney for building owner Nick Angelis. Williford owed Angelis about $35,000 in unpaid rent and roughly $60,000 for the furniture and equipment that filled the restaurant, said Gibson.
Williford was evicted from the building on Jan. 13 and was forced to close Bistro 155. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. When Adams learned the restaurant had closed, he said he contacted Gibson about getting back his artwork.
"I told him once we did an inventory of the space, if he'd just be patient, we would give him his property back," Gibson said.Criminal charges
Adams couldn't wait; he said he feared someone else would take his paintings. So on Jan. 30, Adams went to the restaurant to reclaim them. He said someone inside, whom he didn't recognize, slammed a door in his face. He said he contacted Apex police and reported the incident.Myhand said an officer spoke with Adams that day and told him he would need to get a lawyer to get his paintings back.The next day, Adams returned to the restaurant. The doors were unlocked, he said, though Apex police officers say they found the doors were secured when they arrived. Adams reclaimed 26 of his 31 paintings, which were valued at $5,875, according to his arrest warrant. He said he then called the Apex Police Department to report he'd seized his property.
"He was very straightforward in admitting to taking the paintings," said Myhand.
One of the paintings Adams retrieved from Bistro 155 is called "Alive and Free." He said he was inspired to make it after he went through chemotherapy. Now, he said, he'll have even more material to inspire his art.
"I don't think I did anything wrong," Adams said. "I stand behind what I did."
Adams is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22 when he'll learn if the judge believes there was probable cause for his charges.