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Food not reason restaurant closed again

A year after the Ponderosa restaurant served its last plate of enchiladas in 2012, the iconic and empty East Mountain establishment was used in the penultimate episode of “Breaking Bad” as the rustic New Hampshire bar where Walter White ordered his last Dimple Pinch, neat.

White would not be the last bad guy to show up at the Ponderosa.

In late 2016, neighbors grew excited over rumors that the restaurant, then festooned with Christmas wreaths, was set to reopen by the holidays.

But Christmas came and went. The wreaths disappeared. Neighbors heard the new owners were still working on repairs and licensing.

Finally, the Ponderosa – or Pondorosa, as it was sometimes called – opened in May 2017. Even then the restaurant seemed unready. Water was served in bottles because a filtration system was faulty. No credit cards were accepted for months. A beer and wine license never materialized. A Christmas tree was never taken down.

The interior of the Ponderosa, in the East Mountains, retained its rustic charm after a massive remodeling. Even in summer, a Christmas tree remained part of the decor. (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

The interior of the Ponderosa, in the East Mountains, retained its rustic charm after a massive remodeling. Even in summer, a Christmas tree remained part of the decor. (Joline Gutierrez Krueger/Albuquerque Journal)

Reviews ranged from glowing to gross. Neighbors tried to remain patient, hoping the Ponderosa reboot would succeed, not just because it was the only restaurant that far south of Tijeras, but for the sake of Nate Geary, the restaurant’s amiable, overworked and overwhelmed young owner.

Other patrons bemoaned waits as long as 45 minutes to have their orders taken. Some said they were turned off by the rude and creepy behavior of the cook, Jason Lambros.

Only after the restaurant’s demise, announced Dec. 20 in a Facebook post, did most neighbors discover that Lambros, not Geary, owned the Ponderosa, and that he was not just rude and creepy, but a shyster and a sleaze and, now, a prison inmate.

Jason Lambros, court records indicate, is actually James Lambros, a 69-year-old man from Austria with a criminal record that dates back at least into his 20s when he was charged with forgery and passing bad checks in San Diego and possession of pornography in San Francisco.

Court records also indicate that Lambros was accused of defaulting on thousands of dollars in loans and leases in Albuquerque, beginning in 2006.

That same year, Lambros was arrested on a charge of operating a liquor establishment without a liquor license after he took ownership of Harlow’s on the Hill, a nightclub in Nob Hill. That charge was later dropped.

In 2011, Lambros adopted a teenage boy, and the two moved into a home in the Country Club area.

James Lambros

James Lambros

It was around that time that Lambros befriended a 98-year-old neighbor, becoming her confidant and caregiver. In turn, he claims in court records that she willingly helped him purchase the Ponderosa in 2016.

Also around that time, Lambros moved in to a massive three-story, four-bedroom mountain home complete with bunk house, bath house and barn 6 minutes from the restaurant.

But a lawsuit filed on behalf of the neighbor accuses Lambros of bilking her out of more than $1 million in life savings, isolating her from her family and friends, hiding her mail, even tricking her by creating fake envelopes and deposit slips to give the illusion that she still had money in the bank.

In May 2018, a year after the Ponderosa reopened, Lambros was hit with a 32-count felony indictment, including charges of larceny, embezzlement, tax fraud and forgery for his dealings with the woman and another neighbor.

Lambros was also charged with possession of child pornography.

Lambros’ legal problems continued to mount. Last summer, the previous owners of the Ponderosa sued him for defaulting on monthly payments and taxes and misusing $16,000 for a water filtration system.

Then, on Oct. 1, a 19-year-old man with autism accused Lambros of sexually assaulting and possibly drugging him in a three-story home in the mountains.

According to the criminal complaint, the young man said an older man who identified himself as Jason struck up a conversation with him at a thrift store and offered to buy him clothes and lunch. Jason then took the young man to his restaurant in the mountains, then to his nearby home, where the two smoked pot, drank wine and watched a movie. The young man said he felt woozy, passed out and later woke up with Jason performing a sex act on him.

The young man said he felt frozen and too intoxicated to move, vomited and passed out until the next morning.

Lambros was arrested Dec. 16 on sexual assault charges after DNA testing identified him as the likely contributor to “mixture” on the young man’s privates.

On Dec. 17, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for defrauding his Country Club neighbors. Under a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to five of the 32 counts, which did not include the child porn charge.

On Dec. 18, the sexual assault charges involving the young man with autism were dropped, too. Michael Patrick, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office in Bernalillo County, said the young man lives out of state and did not want to return to New Mexico for trial or be subjected to the additional trauma of a court case.

He also said the family was satisfied with the sentence Lambros will serve for the fraud. Lambros had pleaded not guilty to the sexual assault charges.

Lambros, three months shy of his 70th birthday, is battling thyroid cancer and other ailments, according to his attorney.

The Ponderosa, meanwhile, has been returned to the previous owners, leaving Geary, the young co-owner, with nothing, and an East Mountain community with nothing but a sick feeling and no place for enchiladas.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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