One of the owners of Busy Chef, the popular Brooklyn Heights upscale take-out joint, was arraigned today for stealing nearly $25,000 from unwitting customers in a massive identity theft and credit card forgery case — and will remain in jail at least until Wednesday because the court would not accept a bail payment from an accused forger.
Daniel Kaufman, 34, surrendered to cops on Thursday morning 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 is also a manager at four other nearby restaurants, and he allegedly used customers’ credit card numbers from those locations to make purchases and pocket the proceeds. Busy Chef is located at 60 Henry St. at Cranberry Street.
At Kaufman’s arraignment on Friday morning, Judge Evelyn LaPorte set bail at $50,000 — but then refused to accept any bail payment from Kaufman until he proves at a hearing on Wednesday that his bail money was not obtained fraudulently.
She also accepted a prosecution argument that Kaufman is a flight risk.
“The allegations are very serious [and] the amount of money is very serious,” LaPorte said.
But Kaufman’s attorney, James Moschella, disagreed, arguing that Kaufman was actually on a business trip in Georgia when he heard about the investigation into his alleged fraud.
“He flew back … and surrendered,” Moschella said, suggesting that Kaufman would not run away from the charges.
He is an “upstanding member of the community” and has a “great financial interest in his ventures,” Moschella added.
In court, Kaufman appeared exhausted, politely standing before the judge in a wrinkled linen shirt and khakis and spiky graying hair. He smiled meekly at family and friends sitting in the gallery.
After the hearing, a relative said he did not wish to comment on the case.
Kaufman was busted this week after an employee caught him in the act and quietly began collecting evidence against his boss, according to the 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 Otto.
Busy Chef opened last spring, and it quickly became popular with a growing segment of Brooklynite: the harried office worker who appreciated the shop’s prepared, single-serving dinners. The Henry Street location transformed the restaurant revolving door at the corner of Henry and Cranberry streets, making it a foodie destination that included three other Kaufman-managed restaurants: Oven, an upscale pizzeria; Blue Pig, an ice cream shop; and The Wine Bar at 50 Henry Street.
But Kaufman’s employees knew something was up — he had been bouncing checks “all over the place,” one Busy Chef employee said. Still, the news is still surprising.
“A lot of employees are shocked because he was the boss,” the employee said Thursday.
There are two other Busy Chef locations, one at 111 Court St., between State and Schermerhorn streets, and the other in Manhattan.
Kaufman went out of his way to be involved in the community. He had donated cookies and ice cream to community events, Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton said.
“I was very surprised [to hear the news]. It’s not what I would have expected,” Stanton said. “He went out of his way to make himself known to the community. I think he sensed the community-minded spirit of Brooklyn Heights, and so he wanted to help.”
Kaufman is at Rikers Island until Wednesday’s hearing at State Supreme Court at 120 Schermerhorn St. Law enforcement officials are asking people to call the District Attorney’s “Action Center” at (718) 250-2340 if they believe they were a victim of the alleged scam. Check back at BrooklynPaper.com for ongoing updates on this juicy story.