‘The power of so­cial media’

Ne­wark bars use Face­book to track down se­rial thief

Newark Post - - Front Page - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­pub.com

“It’s so funny, the power of so­cial media. We pretty much solved this in three or four hours. We joined forces. There’s a great strong bond be­tween restau­rants, es­pe­cially in Ne­wark, so it was re­ally cool to see that.” --Gian­marco Mar­tus­celli Klondike Kate’s owner

A man who re­cently walked out on nu­mer­ous tabs at sev­eral Main Street restau­rants has fi­nally set­tled up after bar­tenders and em­ploy­ees used so­cial media to iden­tify him.

Reza Shiekh, a bar­tender at Grotto Pizza, said the bar tab ban­dit, who the Ne­wark Post is not nam­ing be­cause no crim­i­nal charges have been filed, stiffed the restau­rant three times over the last few months.

The first time, Shiekh said, he asked the man for a credit card to hold his tab and kept it be­hind the bar un­til he was ready to close out. The man later told Shiekh he wanted pay cash, so Shiekh handed his card back and tended to another cus­tomer.

“I ended up get­ting busy and he ended up walk­ing out and I thought maybe he put the money down and I didn’t see it or another bar­tender picked it up, but then later I re­al­ized he never paid,” Shiekh said Tues­day.

The sec­ond time it hap­pened, Shiekh had just walked in for a shift and the man was sit­ting at the bar. He said the man asked to close his tab, but dis­ap­peared when it was time to pay up, just like be­fore.

“He went out to smoke a cig­a­rette and never came back in,” he said.

It didn’t take long be­fore Shiekh learned Grotto Pizza wasn’t the only Main Street restau­rant hit by the bar tab ban­dit.

Klondike Kate’s owner Gian­marco Mar­tus­celli said sur­veil­lance video at his restau­rant cap­tured the cul­prit din­ing and dash­ing on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing last week, when the man came in for drinks and a burger.

“He ei­ther pre­tended or took a phone call out­side and put his bar stool up like to say, ‘No one take my seat,’ and never came back,” he said. “We thought maybe some­thing came up and he would be back to pay his tab, but he didn’t.”

Mar­tus­celli said the man struck again at Kate’s over the week­end, but he wanted to give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt and chose not to take any ac­tion.

“Like, what if it’s an hon­est mis­take? It makes us look bad,” he said. “We thought it was funny at first, but then we found out it hap­pened to other bar­tenders at other restau­rants on Main Street so we started think­ing, ‘Wait a minute, this guy is a scam­mer.’”

A bar­tender at Kate’s posted the man’s photo on Face­book and Shiekh shared it on his own page, hop­ing some­one would iden­tify him. Within a few hours, em­ploy­ees from sev­eral other Ne­wark bars, in­clud­ing Cather­ine Rooney’s, Stone Bal­loon, Arena’s, Ti­mothy’s and Mad Mac’s, left com­ments say­ing their restau­rants had also been hit by the same man.

Shayna Perez, a bar­tender at Cather­ine Rooney’s, had just started at the restau­rant and was work­ing her sec­ond shift alone when the man came in and sat down at the bar. She said he asked her what the spe­cials were, told her he was meet­ing some­one and or­dered a small pitcher of beer, but didn’t start a tab with a credit card. She said he ended up stay­ing at the bar for a few hours, dur­ing which he talked about his life, or­dered another pitcher of beer and ate some food.

Around 5 p.m., Perez said she looked over and the man’s beer and jacket were still at his seat, but he was gone. She waited a few min­utes to see if he would come back, but even­tu­ally voided his tab when the next bar­tender took over.

Perez said Tues­day she felt taken ad­van­tage of at the time, and blamed her­self be­cause she was new.

“I was so up­set with my­self,” she said. “I should have just got­ten a credit card, but you don’t ex­pect peo­ple to do that. Now I get a card from every­one.”

Shiekh was up­set, too, which is why he shared the pic­tures on Face­book and en­cour­aged peo­ple to send him the name of the cul­prit. He said most of the time if some­one doesn’t pay their tab, the bar­tenders have to come up with the cash.

“It’s the same as him go­ing up and tak­ing cash out of the reg­is­ter,” Shiekh said. “Why wouldn’t we go after him?”

Face­book users quickly gave up the man’s name, but be­fore any­one had the chance to contact Ne­wark Po­lice, he showed up to Grotto Pizza on Mon­day to set­tle up.

Shiekh said the man was prob­a­bly tipped off about the so­cial media post, but didn’t apol­o­gize for skip­ping out or leave a tip.

“He couldn’t even bring him­self to tip on stolen money,” he said. “And for him to not even apol­o­gize is the low­est of the low.”

The man paid all the tabs he owed on Main Street on Mon­day, in­clud­ing two at Cather­ine Rooney’s, ac­cord­ing to Perez, who also said the man didn’t apol­o­gize or tip.

“I don’t think he tipped any­one on Main Street from my knowl­edge,” she said.

As of Tues­day, the in­ci­dent had still not been re­ported to the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment.

“If they had re­ported it, the­o­ret­i­cally we could still charge him, but it would be up to the vic­tims – the bars them­selves – if we would pros­e­cute,” said Ne­wark Po­lice spokesman Lt. Fred Nel­son.

He said the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for theft is three years, mean­ing if the bar tab ban­dit strikes in Ne­wark again and the bars choose to press charges, he can be held ac­count­able for all of the pre­vi­ous dine and dash in­ci­dents that were not re­ported, re­gard­less of if he paid the tabs.

Mar­tus­celli hopes some bar­tenders will now think twice be­fore let­ting a cus­tomer rack up a tab with­out a credit card, but he said Kate’s pol­icy has al­ways been to take cards. He also hopes fu­ture dine­and- dash­ers think twice be­fore com­ing to Ne­wark be­cause Main Street is not to be messed with, he said.

“It’s so funny, the power of so­cial media. We pretty much solved this in three or four hours,” he said. “We joined forces. There’s a great strong bond be­tween restau­rants, es­pe­cially in Ne­wark, so it was re­ally cool to see that.”

NE­WARK POST FILE PHOTO

Gian­marco Mar­tus­celli, owner of Klondike Kate’s, was one of sev­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Main Street busi­nesses who turned to so­cial media to track down a man who skipped out on sev­eral bar tabs.

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