Culinary caper! Top boro chef indicted for allegedly stealing thousands from Bay Ridge restaurateurs • Brooklyn Paper

Culinary caper! Top boro chef indicted for allegedly stealing thousands from Bay Ridge restaurateurs

Sweet and sour: Chef Vincent Tropepe made plates of French pastries to celebrate the ribbon-cutting at his new restaurant consulting business in Bay Ridge — but he won’t sugarcoat his opinion about excessive city fines against fellow restaurateurs.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

This chef is cooked.

A Bay Ridge cook once lauded as one of the borough’s top chefs faces up to seven years in prison for allegedly posing as a phony consultant and stealing thousands from the owners of a restaurant in his neighborhood.

Prosecutors slapped 36-year-old Vincent Tropepe — whom Edible Magazine once dubbed the “American-born Gordon Ramsay” — with charges including second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, first-degree falsifying business records, and third-degree grand larceny as part of a 41–count indictment, Brooklyn’s top prosecutor announced on Friday.

“The victims in this case worked hard to make their restaurant a success and this defendant, claiming he could help them, allegedly lied and stole their hard-earned money instead,” said Eric Gonzalez.

Tropepe — who previously worked as a personal chef for celebrities including Regis Philbin, P. Diddy, and former President Clinton — scammed the owners of Fifth Avenue’s Yemen Café out of more than $14,000 while working as a so-called consultant, by creating fake violations and fabricating the accompanying fines, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors alleged the defendant attempted to win his victims’ trust by claiming he fought to lower the fines with officials in the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which determines financial penalties for violations doled out by the Department of Health and other city agencies.

The chef began his alleged scheme last July, when he demanded the restaurant owners pay a $2,570 fine issued by the office, according to the district attorney. And a month later, he asked the owners to reimburse him for $11,650, money Tropepe claimed he paid to the office on the victims’ behalf to cover another fine, alleged Gonzalez, who said the defendant used fraudulent paperwork outlining the fines to support his bogus claims.

The restaurateurs, who also own a Downtown location of their café, later contacted the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings with suspicions about the fines’ legitimacy. And agency officials deemed Tropepe’s financial penalties and their supporting documents fake, before reporting the incident to the city’s Department of Investigation, according to the district attorney.

Tropepe, meanwhile, allegedly tried to dupe his victims once more, presenting them with more fraudulent paperwork and fake fines last December, which they did not pay, prosecutors said.

City records show the eatery’s owners paid $1,000 for two 2014 violations, for construction work and a failure to maintain the building’s code. And the restaurant has two open violations with the Department of Buildings, for a low-pressure boiler and construction work dating back to 2009, according to the records.

Tropepe started his consulting scheme in 2014, to fight what he called the city’s unfair health-codes and fines, which he called a burden on small-business owners.

“I feel that there is no foundation to what is being written during some inspections,” Tropepe told this newspaper at the time.

The chef also claimed he helped dismiss $300,000 worth of fines issued to local restaurateurs in 2013, adding that he additionally helped secure about $110,000 in refunds to business owners.

Tropepe, who owned and operated the French bistro Saint Germain in Bay Ridge between 2011 and 2012, is due back in court on April 17, the district attorney said.

Neither the defendant nor the owners of Yemen Café could be reached by press time. A rep for Gonzalez did not immediately respond when asked for more details on the allegedly fabricated violations and fines.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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