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Tragedy as opera singer Scheherazade Pesante falls victim to villain at Great Tree pub in Ramsgate

By Paul Hooper
The Great Tree,Ramsgate, Opera singer Scheherazade Pesante
The Great Tree,Ramsgate, Opera singer Scheherazade Pesante

Classical singer Scheherazade Pesante has sung about betrayal and tragedy in operas she has performed in London and New York.

But none of the arias from Aida or Carmen could match the true life drama she suffered after opening a pub, The Great Tree in Margate Road, Ramsgate.

A jobless teenager turned up asking for work – and the kind-hearted mezzo soprano took pity on him and gave him a job which paid him up to £500 every two weeks.

The Puerto Rican-born Ms Pesante – who has appeared in films including All That Jazz – hoped to train him to become a pub manager – and even paid for courses to give him the business skills.

But now a judge has heard how 19-year-old Cemal Robinson behaved like one of the villains from an opera... slyly getting her to trust him and then stealing as she lay ill in hospital.

While she was in hospital he took the key to her private room and systematically swiped nearly £15,000 in jewels and cash - including a “love” ring from her husband.

Then as a sideshow, the teenager later would spin a yarn in front of a judge of mystery men, vague threats and rendezvous outside Canterbury’s Tesco where cash was handed over to men in hoods.

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And in the final act of betrayal, Robinson would tell Canterbury Crown Court that he didn't regard his employer as a “really vulnerable” victim.

But Judge James O’Mahony rejected the account by Robinson, of Stone Barn Avenue, Birchington – and sent him to a young offender’s institute for 13 months.

He told the teenager: “I am quite sure your story is just a pack of lies and in truth, utterly incredible, fantastical and I don’t believe a word of it!”

The case was heard at Canterbury Crown Court
The case was heard at Canterbury Crown Court

Robinson admitted theft and burglary between October 2012 and January this year from the micro pub which offers real ales, ciders as well as teas from China and Japan.

Prosecutor Jim Harvey told Canterbury Crown Court how Ms Pesante had placed “ a great deal of trust” in Robinson.

“She had envisaged that in the fullness of time he may very well have become a manager. She had already, out of her own pocket, paid for him to go on a number of courses, with a view to developing his management potential.”

In 2012 she suffered from a number of knee ailments which began to be more severe and she had to take prescribed painkillers and was heavily sedated, he added.

Eventually she had to go into hospital and left the key to her apartment with Robinson.

Mr Harvey added: “She had started to become concerned about items going missing but ascribed that to the confusion caused by her medication.

“When she returned from hospital it became increasingly apparent to her that it was not her medication which was the reason she couldn’t find her items. Property was clearly being stolen from her, so she prevented staff from going to her rooms.”

After a wedding ring disappeared, the singer secretly installed CCTV equipment in her rooms and then went out shopping.

"She later viewed the footage and saw her protege Robinson picking the lock to her apartment and stealing cash.

The prosecutor told how the film showed him taking money from the middle of cash piles - and then trying to make each one equal to disguise the theft.

He was confronted by the singer and admitted taking the jewellery to a local branch of the Money Shop and selling it..

Despite being caught red-handed Robinson later tried to spin a yarn about receiving a call from unknown men who made veiled threats against his family.

“He did not do these thefts as a result of threats, he did it to help himself to money and jewellery. It is a serious breach of trust” - Judge O'Mahony

He told how he had carried out the thefts after being ordered to take cash to a branch of Tescos in Canterbury and hand it over to men in dark clothes- he said he didn't know who the men where or why they were making threats.

The teenager said: “I feel horrible for what I have done. I have read Ms Pesante’s Victim Impact Statement which makes me feel even worse because in it she makes herself out as a vulnerable old lady but if you were to go into the pub as a general customer you would find out she is far from it. She is not the type of person to fear anybody!”

But the judge told him: “ The defendant’s account was fantastical both in content and manner and stretches credulity to the nth degree. He called into question this lady’s truthfulness which just shows he has shown little or no remorse and is only interested in himself.

“Yet he had come in from the street and asked for a job. This lady had trusted him and put him through courses with a view to more permant employment

“He did not do these thefts as a result of threats, he did it to help himself to money and jewellery. It is a serious breach of trust.”

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