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The future of two Hell’s Kitchen restaurants — Casa Del Toro and Le Privé — is in doubt after their owner Sanjay Laforest was arrested. The restaurateur was indicted along with his parents and sister and charged with embezzling $17 million from Atlas Acon Electric, a NYC electric contractor where his mother, Sabitri Laforest, worked as a controller. The restaurants were closed on Wednesday, but reopened for service again on Thursday evening.
According to a press release put out by the Southern District of New York’s U.S. Attorney’s office, the family “exploited a position of trust to engage in a vast scheme of criminal plunder.”
“The defendants lived a life of luxury: international travel, fancy apartments and homes, a 2020 Ford Shelby GT500, and a 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, as well as ownership in successful restaurants,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. “But, as alleged, this was all paid for with $17 million that the defendants stole from the company that employed Sabitri Laforest for over 30 years.”
The indictment specifies that “at least between 2013 and 2020,” the family used Sabitri’s access to company bank accounts to make payments to a credit card opened by her daughter, Sanjay’s sister, Tatiana Laforest.
“The defendants used the charge card account to pay for, among other things, over $639,000 in air travel, over $242,000 in tickets for a New York City professional basketball team, over $250,000 in rent for two luxury apartments in Manhattan leased by Tatiana Laforest and Sanjay Laforest, over $100,000 in home improvements for a Florida home purchased by Sabitri Laforest and Garry Laforest, and a 2020 Ford Shelby GT500 and a 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1,” the indictment states.
Sanjay’s two Hell’s Kitchen restaurants — on 10th Avenue between W44/45th Street — were also used to launder “proceeds of their embezzlement scheme.” French eatery Le Privé opened back in 2017, when it replaced the German sausage spot, Hallo Berlin. Laforest opened the Mexican restaurant Casa Del Toro next door to Le Privé just before the Coronavirus pandemic hit, in early February 2020.
According to the Daily News, Sanjay Laforest was released on $1 million bail and his mother (who was arrested in Florida) was released on $2 million bail. She had been fired from the company last year and forced to pay back $714,000 after suspicious credit card charges were found.
This week, Sanjay posted a picture of himself at Casa Del Toro on his Instagram account, saying: ” The best stories are the ones that are untold… #writeabook.”
We have asked for comments from both the restaurants and Sanjay and will update this story.