Eric Cloutier suing Karma owners

by Heather Miller

The former hockey standout and downtown bar owner claims Karma's ownership group owes him more than $330,000. Eric Cloutier, the former Icegator and downtown bar owner who pleaded no contest in 2009 to tax evasion, money laundering and a slew of other charges, is suing the owners of Karma for hundreds of thousands of dollars he says they owe him for selling his share of the downtown nightclub.

Cloutier sold his shares in Marley's and Karma a few months after he was arrested in February 2009 for manipulating his cash registers to conceal sales, illegally obtaining alcohol permits by providing false information and, among other charges, filing false tax returns. In return for his best interest guilty plea, in which Cloutier did not admit guilt, he was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay thousands of dollars in prosecution costs to the state Attorney General's Office and the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

Now Cloutier is taking formal action against Karma owners Robert Oja, Mike Parich Jr. and Dennis Talbot in an attempt to recoup more than $330,000 he says he is owed by the ownership group.

"When I sold the business they didn't have the money to buy me out, so they were just paying me monthly," Cloutier says. "They're all behind on their notes, and I tried for over a year to get the money. I didn't want to [file lawsuits], but what can I do? The business is making money, but they're not paying me. It was really my last resort."

Cloutier claims in the lawsuits that Oja owes more than $115,000 for his share of the buyout and interest fees outlined in the contract. According to Cloutier's court filings, Parich owes roughly $73,000 on his share and Talbot owes almost $142,000. Oja has only paid $387 since signing the promissory note in June 2009, according to court documents.

None of the three owners targeted in the lawsuit could be reached for comment this morning.

The former Lafayette hockey standout says he still lives in Lafayette and has been working as a consultant for an unnamed Baton Rouge firm and other unnamed clients to develop nightlife establishments in Baton Rouge. As part of his probation, Cloutier is barred from having an alcohol permit until his probation is complete in the next few months. When he clears his legal hurdles, Cloutier says he wants to open a night club or bar in downtown Baton Rouge.

"I don't really want to do business in Lafayette to be quite honest," Cloutier says. "Nothing has changed in downtown Lafayette; there's no reason for me to do business over there."