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At the least Chris Hebert is worthy of scrutiny, beginning with his confession arising from the 1990 theft charges. He was 24 years old at the time, attending college in Tallahassee and working as a waiter at a restaurant called Rooster's. According to court records, the owner, Walter Sidney Rayborn, caught Hebert and another waiter skimming money from the restaurant by "knowingly falsifying credit-card submissions from patrons in order to pocket the money." The estimated amount of money Hebert allegedly pilfered ranged from $700 to nearly $3000.
Rayborn told Hebert that if he confessed, he wouldn't be prosecuted. So Hebert proceeded to pen a seven-page confession in which he unabashedly tried to implicate just about every other employee in the restaurant. "Mr. Rayborn, I don't understand why you don't like me and you do like Derek," Hebert wrote, referring to the other person caught stealing from the restaurant. "It kinda hurts my feelings and makes me feel like I'm being ridiculed more than anyone else. What has happened has put a tremendous strain on me and made me feel very bad."
Hebert went on to rat out eight other waiters who supposedly also were stealing from Rayborn. He then identified bartenders who drank while on duty and members of the kitchen staff who took food. "Many friends of the cooks have received French dips, chicken tenders, etc.," Hebert asserted. "This is a fact because I have seen it done."
Hebert summed up the affair with a flourish of indignation. "The last thing I would like to say Mr. Rayborn is, even though my actions where [sic] in very poor taste and disrespectful to you, many, including your own peers, say that you are disrespectful to them," he stated. "I myself do not deserve respect for my actions and I took that on my own shoulders. But many of your employees, not counting us, steal for the simple reason that morale in your restaurant/bar is very low. This is because there are no rewards for good work other than money. People need more to work hard. How many times has Gary or yourself patted someone on the back and said good work son. I have been there almost two years and never seen it happen.
"Mr. Rayborn, what happened to me has made me stand back and realize I have many faults, most people do. Thank you for being understanding."
Not surprisingly Rayborn took Hebert's confession, turned it over to police, and had him arrested. The charges were reduced to petit theft. He was given six months probation and ordered to pay $2000 in restitution.
Today Hebert says he never stole any money from Rayborn, that all he did was give away six steak dinners to his fraternity brothers. "It was a mishap that happened at a fairly young age," Hebert says. "Mr. Rayborn and I are now friends. I'm friends with his son and his family."
So why did Hebert write a confession describing how he bilked the restaurant by falsifying credit-card receipts? "Mr. Rayborn made me write something that would incriminate me more than I would be incriminated because he wanted to hold something over me," Hebert claims. "If you ask him, I'm sure he'll tell you that." Rayborn, who still lives in Tallahassee, says he likes Hebert and bears him no ill will. But when pressed for details about the events leading up to Hebert's arrest, he declines comment.
In 1992 a warrant was issued for Hebert's arrest after he failed to comply with the terms of his probation. He was picked up at his parents' home in Homestead on April 18, 1993. Hebert dismisses it as a simple misunderstanding that wasn't his fault. "I told my probation officer that I was moving, and I was going back home, and I guess the probation officer didn't relay that message to the judge," he offers.
Court records suggest a different story. On June 10, 1993, Hebert's attorney filed a motion to formally terminate his probation. The attorney noted that a warrant had been issued earlier for Hebert's arrest because he had failed to make restitution. "The defendant has, however, since the issuance of the warrant paid all of the money and has completed the community service that was ordered as part of the probation," the attorney wrote. The significant word here seems to be since, implying that Hebert didn't repay the restaurant owner or complete his community service until after the warrant had been issued.
According to records maintained by the Leon County Sheriff's Office, Hebert's legal problems weren't limited to theft from the restaurant. Between 1990 and 1992 he also faced eight separate misdemeanor charges for kiting checks all over Tallahassee. Hebert glosses over the charges as simply more youthful indiscretion. "I passed a couple of bad checks to Domino's," he shrugs.
After returning to South Florida, Hebert says, he ran into high school buddy Steve Shiver at a Home Depot shortly after Hurricane Andrew. Hebert was working construction at the time, but Shiver encouraged him to get a real estate appraiser's license. Hebert did so and then joined the firm for which Shiver worked. In 1995 Shiver decided to start his own appraisal firm. "We worked out of Steve's bedroom for about a year getting that company going," Hebert recalls.