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Woman says her name was forged on liquor license of Columbia Mexican restaurant, claims she never owned restaurant


A woman is accusing the owners of a Mexican restaurant on the south side of Columbia of lying to the state over a liquor license. 

Casa Maria’s Mexican Cantina's liquor license was suspended for 52 days after the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control claimed a name was forged on a liquor license and a felony charge involving its owner, Crystal Umfress was not disclosed.

Linda Fitzgerald said she once considered Crystal Umfress a friend. She told ABC 17 News when Umfress decided she wanted to open a restaurant in Columbia, she was asked if she would sign their liquor license because they “needed someone from Boone County.”

Fitzgerald said she signed the document in 2021, but claimed she told Umfress that she was moving out of Boone County and they would need to find someone else to do it moving forward. 

Chris Fitzgerald, Linda's son, said he spoke to Umfress in the restaurant about a year later and asked about the liquor license, but claims Umfress brushed it off. 

When the license was renewed, Chris Fitzgerald noticed that Linda's name was still on the license. Chris Fitzgerald claimed he notified multiple state senators and local officials that his mother. Eventually, he was informed that an investigation had been launched into the restaurant. Previous reporting indicates that Linda Fitzgerald contacted the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control on Oct. 16, 2023, 

In 2023, the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control sent Casa Maria's a notice that they would need to attend a conference on March 14, 2024. 

The notice states Casa Maria wrongfully applied for a liquor license on April 10, 2023. The business had submitted an application in February 2021 in which it listed Fitzgerald, who they claimed owned 91% of the business, as the “managing officer.”

During the conference with the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, a recording of which was obtained by ABC 17 News through a records request, Umfress was asked about Linda Fitzgerald’s relationship with the business to which she replied, “She (Linda) was an owner with me at Casa Maria.” 

Linda Fitzgerald has denied being an owner of the business. 

“I was absolutely never an owner. I'm 73 years old.  I live on a fixed income with public assistance,” Fitzgerald told ABC 17 News. “If I was (an) owner, I would be living a lot better financially. I've never been an owner. I never wanted to be an owner. I was never. I was never asked if I wanted to be an owner. I couldn't believe she said that.”

Umfress also told officials during the conference that Chris Fitzgerald was in charge of handling their legal and state paperwork. When asked who signed the renewal application she said:

“It would of have would of had to of been Linda or Chris. They have always handled the liquor license since the beginning.” 

Umfress in the video also claimed that Chris Fitzgerald was fired in 2023 because “signatures were signed that shouldn’t be signed.” 

However, Linda Fitzgerald claims Chris was never a full-time employee for the business. 

“My son’s in St. Louis. Yes, my son would drive to Columbia and help when they were opening the restaurant,” Fitzgerald said. “He didn’t work full time. Crystal said she needed his help and he helped her.” 

Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to ABC 17 News that he was hired to help as Umfress’ “personal assistant” when the business first opened to help with legal paperwork.  However, he added that he was never “fired” because he was working as a full-time truck driver and that he cut off communications with Umfress after her arrest.

Umfress was charged with second-degree arson in Dunklin County, in southeast Missouri. The case was moved to Butler County in January. A bond condition filed on Feb. 1 prohibits Umfress from entering Dunklin County. A jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2025, A pretrial conference is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2025.

Court documents filed in July state that Umfress contacted a witness and asked her to burn a business in Kennett, Missouri. A fire later broke out at Lupita's Mexican Restaurant. 

Umfress allegedly hired Kerry Raymond to set the fire. A witness told Kennett police that Umfress contacted her to burn the business when Raymond was with her, according to a probable cause statement.

Umfress and a woman named Layla Kayed – who identified herself as an owner in a video of the March meeting with the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, – said during the meeting that they have had no contact with Linda Fitzgerald after the charges were filed, except for a handwritten letter and expressed in a letter she didn’t want to be involved with Casa Maria's any further. 

“She (Linda) disappeared like literally from off the face of the Earth and then wrote a letter condemning her (Umfress) to Hell because she thought she was a bad person," Kayed said during the conference. "I mean Linda walked away from something she had agreed to start and create because she thought she’d go to Hell if she was associated with someone." 

Linda Fitzgerald told ABC 17 News that she did write a letter, but it had nothing to do with ownership of the restaurant. 

“I wrote her a letter and said, 'I had no idea she could do something so horrible.' And I'm a Christian, and I told her she needed to get on her knees and pray to God for forgiveness. And I said I want my name taken off that liquor license,” Linda Fitzgerald said. 

“I’m just hurt by it and I don’t want anymore to do with her. I trusted her. My son trusted her and she betrayed us,” Linda Fitzgerald said. “We were just there to help a friend that was all.”

ABC 17 News reached out to Casa Maria's on Tuesday evening.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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