Man Arrested for Serving up Bogus A Restaurant Grades, Investigators Say
NEW YORK — City investigators uncovered a Staten Island man's scheme to cook up fake A grades for restaurants in exchange for cash, officials announced Thursday.
Anastasios Kountis, 32, was busted Wednesday and charged with forgery, tampering with public records, falsifying business records and other crimes after he was caught serving up phony letter grades to restaurants that had hired him to clear their violations, according to a Department of Investigation report.
Kountis duped nine eateries, including Brooklyn Heights' popular Grand Canyon Restaurant and Telly's Taverna in Queens, which hired him to represent them at Health Department hearings after they received violations, investigators charge.
In exchange for $150 to $200 from each of the restaurants, Kountis told the owners that he had successfully cleared their violations, and he presented each one with an A grade to hang in their window, investigators said.
However, all of the grades were fake — either color photocopies of a real letter grade or letter grades belonging to other businesses — and Kountis did not appear before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings' Health Tribunal on behalf of the businesses, as he had claimed, investigators said.
"This guy, he screwed us big time," said Shakeel Khokhar, manager of New Punjab Restaurant and Grill on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, which got one of Kountis' fake A grades. "I'm in default for almost $20,000 because this guy didn't attend any of my court dates."
Khokhar said he only discovered that the A grade in his window was forged when health inspectors showed up several months ago and informed him that he had actually earned a C and owed thousands of dollars for outstanding fines.
Kountis could serve up to seven years in prison if convicted of the top charges against him.
The restaurant owners are not suspected of any wrongdoing, because they thought Kountis was legitimately working on their behalf, the DOI said.
In a separate investigation, the DOI also found that two workers at Midtown's Masala Junction Restaurant bribed an undercover investigator posing as a Health Department inspector after being told they would receive a failing grade, officials said.
The workers, Dilbag Singh, 27, of Queens, and Ahilia Narayan, 47, of Columbus, N.J., paid the undercover investigator $100 in cash in an attempt to improve their grade, the DOI said.
Singh and Narayan were arrested and charged with bribery and rewarding official misconduct. The top charge is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
"These defendants did not understand the ABC’s of honesty," Hearn said in a statement, referring to both cases.
"Using fraud and bribery to circumvent the city’s restaurant health code is not only criminal, it places the public at risk. DOI’s proactive anti-corruption efforts in this area and our partnership with the Health Department have led to measurable results, exposing and stopping the wrongdoing.”
Lawyers for Kountis, Singh and Narayan could not immediately be reached for comment.