When Kranthi Akula, a bright young man with a knack for selling ideas, offered Paul and Dottie Weddle a chance to get in on the ground floor of his new restaurant, they hopped on the opportunity.

When Kranthi Akula, a bright young man with a knack for selling ideas, offered Paul and Dottie Weddle a chance to get in on the ground floor of his new restaurant, they hopped on the opportunity.


"When he presented it to us, it was like 'OK, we'll give this a five-year window," Dottie Weddle, 61, of Mapleton said, describing their failed business venture with the now-fugitive, who is accused of writing more than $50,000 in bad checks. "Then we'll be 66, and we were hoping to retire in the (Florida) Keys."


She'd never imagined the man she and her husband grew close to, trusted and eventually lent money to would leave them high and dry - and even worse, with a load of debt.


"We trusted him, we befriended him. We were like his American parents," she said. "He was in it for a scam."


Akula, a 27-year-old restauranteur who opened KKolors Resto-Bar in Peoria Heights just two months ago, was charged with four counts of deceptive practice on June 24. He failed to follow a court order to turn in his passport after posting bail and instead boarded a flight to Mumbai, India. He hasn't been heard from since.


Police consider him a fugitive, and the State's Attorney's Office is reviewing whether or not to extradite him. He has been formally accused of writing about $50,000 in bad checks, but Peoria Heights Police Chief Dustin Sutton said that amount could easily double.


False promises


Dottie Weddle said Akula swindled more than $100,000 from friends and acquaintances through empty promises and faulty business deals.


The Weddles met Akula when he began to regularly visit a local bar to hear Paul Weddle play in his jazz band.


"He came in with friends and would listen. He'd say, 'I'm going to be opening a club and I love what you do," said Dottie Weddle. "About a year and a half later, here we are."


The Weddles are now dealing with several thousands of dollars of debt they say Akula racked up on a joint business account in Dottie Weddle's name.


They spent weeks helping him get the restaurant going, interviewing wait staff, ordering supplies and uniforms and even painting.


Paul Weddle was hired on as a musician and was also offered the job of afternoon manager. Dottie Weddle was originally hired to do the books. She said she didn't hold the job long for a couple of reasons: she didn't like the way Akula handled business and he didn't want her because, as she recalled him telling her, "she was too honest."


Luckily they both kept their day jobs - he remodels houses and she has a cleaning business - until they were sure the restaurant would stand on its own.


Bad business


Sukhny Singh, a manager at a Washington gas station, said Akula would often come in and buy "20, 30, 40 cases of beer" for Lucky's, a bar on Adams Street in Peoria he owned for nine months before he filed for bankruptcy.


Singh said he didn't know at first that it's against the law for bar owners to buy liquor for their establishments from retail businesses. When he later brought it up, he said Akula told him he was aware of the law but was secretly outfitting his bar with cheap liquor.


Dottie Weddle confirmed that she and other employees saw Akula using cheap liquor to refill the high-end bottles lining KKolors' bar.


Singh said every check he received from Akula bounced, about $1,200 total. He has filed a complaint with the Tazewell County State's Attorney's Office.


He said he was surprised to learn that Akula obtained a liquor license after the Lucky's failure and was shocked to hear that he was able to flee the country.


"He was a bad man," he said. "I just don't understand how this could happen."


Akula, others say, would fire wait staff after 13 days in an attempt to avoid paying them their paychecks. "If they'd come in to complain, he'd just write them a bad check," Dottie Weddle said, adding that the employees probably will never recoup the cash. "They were hard-working people, having to pay their bills like the rest of us. They did that while he was sporting new shoes and the rest of that on my tab."


In a matter of days in late May, Akula allegedly racked up a hefty bill on the American Express business card he had received through a joint account in Dottie Weddle's name. On the bill were charges for five pairs of shoes, a haircut, visits to a tanning salon and a car.


She immediately closed the account, but the damage was done. Akula vowed to pay them back, but all they've received are bounced checks and more hassles from the credit card company.


Embarrassed by the whole ordeal, she declined to name the total amount Akula had taken from she and her husband, but it was life-changing, she said.


Always an excuse


No matter whom he owed money to or how long it was overdue, Akula always had an excuse.


The day Akula was arrested, he told Paul Weddle he was waiting to receive another $100,000 loan that could come any day.


Singh said he could never get a clear answer from Akula on when he'd be paid. "I called him and he said his employer messed up something," said Singh. "Or he said he sold his bar to a company for a very cheap price. That company was going to pay all the bad checks.


"I never got anything."


Erinn Deshinsky can be reached at (309) 686-3112 or edeshinsky@pjstar.com.