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A Heart Attack Tab 

Local Matters: Man identified in eat-for-free ploy

Published October 3, 2007 at 4:40 p.m.

BURLINGTON - They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. But a free dinner? In Burlington, all you have to do is walk in a restaurant, order dinner, eat your fill, and when the bill comes, pretend you're having a heart attack. That's what some say a local man has been doing to get the most of downtown's fine cuisine.

Elias Elias, 56, of Burlington, has had several theft of services and trespassing charges filed against him since first being charged in August 2005, according to documents at Chittenden District Court. "We've dealt with the guy a dozen or so times in the last 18 months," says Deputy Chief Walt Decker of the Burlington Police Department.

Most recently, Elias pulled his heart attack routine at Burlington Bay Market, and his performance precipitated a call to the fire department, says Matt Young, street outreach team leader for Howard Center Human Services. The agency monitors downtown activity on Church Street and works with local emergency services to provide outreach to individuals with mental disabilities. Young says he has encountered Elias on Church Street in the past and has even been personally attacked by him, but still hopes outreach efforts will help him "pull it together."

Police say this type of theft-of-service call is rare. "If someone needs a meal, between the benevolence of the food shelf and the Salvation Army," says Decker, "there's usually a meal available."

Decker says Elias is expected to pay restitution for his dinners.

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