Busy Chef Dan Kaufman has spent the week out of view after being charged with stealing nearly $25,000 — and attempting to steal $46,000 more — from unwitting customers in a massive identity theft and credit card forgery case.
Kaufman, the manager and co-owner of the popular Brooklyn Heights upscale take-out joint, surrendered to cops on July 17 to answer charges that has been stealing his customers’ credit card numbers since February and ringing up a total of $24,978.53 from 19 customers. He is also charged with attempting to steal nearly $46,000 from five other patrons.
Kaufman, 34, was about to spend the next four days in jail pending a hearing because Supreme Court Judge Evelyn LaPorte refused to accept $50,000 in bail from Kaufman until he could prove that the money was obtained legally.But the busted chef’s girlfriend, whose name was not provided by court officials, put up the $50,000 bail last Friday.
But just because Kaufman is out, doesn’t mean the manager of two Busy Chef locations, plus the upscale pizzeria Oven, the Blue Pig ice cream parlors and The Wine Bar at 50 Henry Street, is home free.
A grand jury convened this week to consider the 19 charges against Kaufman, a District Attorney spokesman said.
This isn’t the first time a Kaufman business has had trouble, according to court papers. In either late 2006 or 2007, Kaufman set up a trendy wine bar in South Boston, where he did not pay more than $40,000 rent, according to a landlord who sued Kaufman to recoup those losses.
“We’ve never gotten a dime out of him. We got possession of the premises but that’s it,” the landlord’s lawyer, James Rudser, told The Brooklyn Paper. “He never puts anything in his name, he knows what he’s doing in terms of the scamming.”
A supplier who worked with Kaufman at that restaurant said he was owed at least $10,000, and finally refused to do business with Kaufman unless he was paid in cash.
“He screwed people three ways to Sunday,” the vendor told The Brooklyn Paper. “I don’t know how he does it — he can look at you smiling and lie to your face, and not even bat an eyelash.”
In fact, media attention to the Brooklyn case has prompted more alleged victims to come forward.
“We expect that the amount and the time frame [of the scam] will grow,” a law enforcement source told The Brooklyn Paper.
Kaufman did not respond to messages left at his apartment. His lawyer, James Moschella, did not return repeated calls for comment. In court last week, he defended his client as an “upstanding member of the community.”
That appeared to be true.
“He went out of his way to make himself known to the community,” said Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton. “I think he sensed the community-minded spirit of Brooklyn Heights, and so he wanted to help.”
Kaufman was busted after an employee caught him in the act and quietly began collecting evidence against his boss, according to the criminal complaint.
He also asked employees to run charges for him — some of them fraudulent, the complaint states. When an employee asked Kaufman what he was doing, Kaufman allegedly brushed off the questions and answered with “nonsensical responses,” said the prosecutor, Wilfredo Cotto.
But Kaufman’s employees knew something was up — he had been bouncing checks “all over the place,” one Busy Chef employee said.
That’s when the employees began collecting evidence.
On Sunday, employees at the Henry Street location of Busy Chef and the neighboring Blue Pig had taped up signs reading, “No credit cards accepted.”