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ROSEVILLE (CBS13) ― A grieving mother says the owner of a Roseville Restaurant refused to hand over money he raised in honor of her teenage son who was killed in a car crash.
“From where I sit now, it looks like this man, his boss, profited off his death.”
Traci Ditri says she hasn’t seen a dime from the benefit held for her son Jared. It was thrown by his boss, Steve Lightfoot of Lightfoot’s California Cuisine in Roseville.
“This is the most blatant disrespect of my son I could ever imagine.”
19-year old Jared Ditri was killed August 10th. Driving on Highway 99 in Sutter County, he collided with a big rig.
“Anytime anybody would need anything he’d jump on it,” Ditri said about her son. “That’s what he was doing that day. He was taking a friend to buy a truck.”
The day of Jared’s death, she says Lightfoot offered to hold a fundraising memorial service at the restaurant for the family.
“We just couldn’t believe it. We thought it was the nicest thing in the world,” she recalled.
About a hundred people showed up to the fundraiser which Steve said raised $1400.
“He told us we’d have it (the money) the Tuesday after the fundraiser, and we didn’t hear from him.”
Adding another layer of suspicion, Jared’s last paycheck bounced. Family friend Rhonda Britton says she’s spoken with Steve about the money several times in the three months since Jared’s death.
“It’s always next week; the first, Friday, some excuse,” she said.
We stopped by the restaurant to speak off camera with Steve a couple weeks back. He told me it was a big misunderstanding and he put the money in a CD for tax purposes.
He admits he should’ve just given the family the money right away.
He says he mailed a cashier’s check to the family the week before our visit.
Traci never got that check. Steve failed to meet deadlines or return our calls.
We decided to show up unannounced last week, but he wasn’t there, even though a staffer said he should have been to work already.
So we waited.
After 45-minutes, we were told Steve knew we were there, and decided not to come in.
So we left, but kept watch on the restaurant to see a half hour later he changed his mind about coming to work. We found him in the kitchen.
“Steve, what’s going on? Where’s their money?” I asked.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, get out of my kitchen. Get out of my kitchen,” Lightfoot screamed.
“Steve, you were supposed to call me back. Just tell me where the $1400 is,” I said as he locked himself in an office.
He eventually came out to speak with me outside, telling our photographer to turn off the camera. He agreed to come clean on camera.
“Why didn’t they get their money? What’s going on?” I asked.
“The restaurant ran into financial problems right afterwards. Because I spent the money on the memorial service, I wasn’t able to make payroll and do other things, and I had to take the money and use it for that and instead of hurting her while grieving, I lied to her and I hurt her worse,” Lightfoot confessed.
I wanted to know why he didn’t tell her that.
“It probably got the best of me, I couldn’t do it,” he said.
But he’s agreed to tell her now. Face to face, he confessed what happened to the money.
“I needed it and I used it.”
Ditri was glad to hear the truth, but had to let out some steam after he lied to her.
“Do you understand we don’t have closure for my son’s death and you made this worse for us? You made this worse for us. You profited off my son’s death. How dare you? We have no resolution from my son’s death because you did this. How dare you?”
“I understand,” Lightfoot replied. “When all this went down, I didn’t want to hurt you and tell you I was going to be able to give it to you and all I did was hurt you even more.”
“I spoke so highly of you like you walked on water, when you did this for my family,” Ditri said. “I told everyone to come in here and patronize this place and look how it turned out.”
“What I did was wrong, and I never meant to hurt you, Jared’s memory or any of the family.”
“I appreciate you standing here and telling me to my face. We could’ve done this a long time ago.”
With an apology, Lightfoot promised us last Thursday, he’d come up with the money by 5pm Friday.
But Friday, Lightfoot called me saying he needed more time. He’d have the money by today. We met him this afternoon.
After three months, he had with him two cashiers’ checks. Enough money to cover the money raised at the benefit and Jared’s last paycheck which bounced.
I asked him, “Does it feel better now having this behind you?”
He responded, “Yes. But nothing I can ever do or say will make up for what they went through.”
I asked Ditri if she now had closure.
“I have the closure I set out for, yeah.”
She says it was never about the money. She plans to use it to honor her son.
“We would like to memorialize Jared in some way, and we want to donate some of the money because that’s what he would have done with it.”
26-companies came forward with donations for that benefit. Lightfoot says he never meant to hurt anyone.
He says he loved Jared, and even named a menu item after him. Ditri says it’s a hard lesson, but even in the darkest moments of your life; watch out for people who may try to take advantage of you.
Our investigation doesn’t end here. We’ve learned of more questionable behavior surrounding Steve Lightfoot, and a fundraiser he held for a charity that doesn’t exist. See the conclusion of our investigation Wednesday, on The CBS13 News at Ten.
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