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Joseph Kern: Is he a schmuck for back-wages lawsuit against restaurant he allegedly robbed?

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As we've learned over years spent bestowing the Schmuck of the Week title, there are sometimes situations in which something schmucky is going on but it's tough to know who deserves the honor -- or if everyone involved does. That's definitely the case in the story of Joseph Kern, who's filed a back-wages lawsuit against the restauranteur from whom he's accused of stealing thousands.

The bizarre tales comes to us from the Aspen Daily News. According to the paper, Kern, 35, worked as director of operations for four restaurants in the area owned by restaurateur Samantha Cordts-Pearce and her husband, Craig. Among them is CP Burger, an upscale joint featuring an item called the Chicano "Fire" Burger -- presumably due to its spiciness and not because it's the perfect thing to eat before firing a Chicano.

This gig came to an end on October 3, when the two owners told cops they had surveillance-camera footage of Kern slipping into the CP Burger offices and stealing just over $2,000 from the company safe. He did so two days after his apartment was reportedly damaged by a fire.

An open-and-shut case? Maybe not. Thus far, Kern hasn't entered a plea concerning the charges against him: two felony burglary counts, one felony theft accusation and a misdemeanor for supposedly obstructing a police officer. The reason, he told the paper, is that he still had "legal access to the safe because I didn't know I was let go from my job."

Plus, he adds, "The money I removed from the safe was well under the wages I was owed and the check that was being cut for me."

Was said cutting interrupted by the alleged theft? Well, Kern claims Cordts-Pearce owes him $5,230.76, and he has filed a lawsuit in small-claims court demanding that she fork it over.

Cordts-Pearce isn't talking at this point, and Kern declines to detail why he was given the sack in the first place, telling the Daily News only that he was pink-slipped for "whatever reason." But even though he acknowledges the owners were within their rights to fire him, he contends that they still must pay him the five grand-plus he's got coming.

So who's the schmuck? Your guess is as good as ours. Here's a larger look at Kern's booking photo.

More from our Schmuck of the Week archive: "Michael Hawkins and James Ward, alleged schmucks, busted thanks to Find my iPhone app."

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