Mill Basin restaurateurs busted in bizarre Super Bowl bribery scheme

frozen gourmet
Gourmet Grill and Frozen Planet Yogurt in Mill Basin, two businesses involved in the alleged bribery scheme.

Three men who own businesses in Mill Basin were indicted Monday on bribery charges as part of a wacky scheme where they promised health inspectors a spot in a lucrative Super Bowl betting pool, in exchange for getting advance notice of future annual health inspections, the Brooklyn District Attorney announced.

Brothers John and Jack DiSanto of Bergen Beach, and their cousin Robert Cuba of Staten Island, are named in the suit, wherein they paid out $16,000 to an undercover agent as a result of his winnings in the betting pool, after that agent was tipped off by a colleague when offered an initial bribe.

“It is alleged that these defendants attempted to corrupt and circumvent Health Department protocols that are in place for a reason: to ensure sanitary conditions and protect the public,” Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. “I commend the city employee who, when allegedly offered a bribe, reported it to [the Department of Investigation]. We will now seek to hold the defendants accountable.”

The three of them all own separate businesses in Mill Basin: John DiSanto owns the casual American eatery Gourmet Grill on Avenue N, while his brother Jack owns Frozen Planet Yogurt two doors down. Across the street, Mill Basin Bagel Cafe is owned by Cuba.

The saga began in January 2020 when, the DA alleges, John DiSanto texted a Health Department employee seeking advance notice of annual health inspections — which are conducted unannounced so restaurateurs don’t run their businesses differently than normal ahead of time — in exchange for a free spot in a betting pool for the upcoming Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.

The employee immediately squealed to the city’s Department of Investigation, which assigned an undercover agent to conduct further communications with DiSanto, under the guise of a rank-and-file Health Department employee.

DiSanto told the agent that he would give him two free “boxes” in the betting pool, normally a $1,000 value, which could ultimately net him a cool $50,000 if all went well. The scofflaw ultimately asked for at least a week’s notice for annual health inspections, for his business as well as his brother’s and cousin’s.

“You’ll have your sets of numbers and if you hit, you come see me and you come collect,” DiSanto said to the undercover agent in a recorded conversation. “And if you don’t hit, you’re in it next year.”

He went on to promise the agent a permanent spot in the betting pool in exchange for the tipoffs.

DiSanto told the agent that he, his brother, and his cousin would need a week’s notice because inspections were “taxing” and made him “nervous.”

“We do get nervous, I’m going to admit it,” the nogoodnik said, as alleged by the DA. “We wanna get it over with because it’s kind of a little taxing for us. So, if they don’t come, then we get mad because we prepare and then we have to reprepare, and so you just gotta give me the heads up.”

DiSanto would ultimately say he wanted to be friends with the undercover agent, and that he wanted him to win the betting pool.

“I want you to become friends with me. I want you to meet my brother…I want you to win,” DiSanto said to the agent, as relayed in quotes released by the DA’s office. “Because I want you to be comfortable, I want you to be like, I’m excited to help these people. That’s what I want.”

The undercover agent agreed to the deal, and while he didn’t win the ultimate jackpot, he still cleaned up with $16,000 in winnings — plus a $4,000 sweetener to ensure the arrangement continued.

Gourmet Grill currently holds an A rating from the Department of Health after its most recent health inspection on Aug. 3, despite receiving a citation that its “food contact surface” was “not properly washed, rinsed, and sanitized after each use.” Previous inspections saw DiSanto’s establishment cited for “improperly maintained” “non-food contact surface[s]” and dysfunctional plumbing and sewage.

Frozen Planet Yogurt and Mill Basin Bagel Cafe also have A ratings. The yogurt shop has previously been cited for improperly-maintained non-food contact surfaces and for lacking proper sanitization in washing utensils, while the bagel emporium has been cited for improperly sanitized food contact surfaces, refrigeration above optimal temperature, fly infestation, and for food not being protected from possible contamination.

The DiSantos and Cuba were released without bail and are due back in court on Jan. 19.