A restaurant consultant has been arrested and accused of providing fake A grades to eateries that actually earned lower marks and had hired him to improve their standings with the Health Department, city investigators said.
Anastasios Kountis, 32, is accused of faking the cards and giving them out to nine restaurants that were not aware the grades were fake. He is charged with second-degree forgery, tampering with public records, fourth-degree grand larceny and several other charges, officials said Thursday.
The city discovered the scheme when officials launched a sweep last April to check restaurant grades throughout the city, and found two restaurants with fake As.
A Staten Island diner called Panini Grill that should have posted a C grade and Telly's Taverna in Queens, which had earned a B grade, were displaying the false As, the Department of Investigation said.
Investigators determined that both restaurants had hired the same consultant to represent them in Department of Health hearings to contest violations. Officials say Kountis made the restaurant owners believe he had reduced their violations, and then gave them fake A grade cards to post in their windows.
Officials said the owners of those restaurants have text messages from Kountis showing that he told them DOH had bumped their grades up to As, and that he would be delivering their new cards.
The restaurant owners said they paid him $150 for handling their cases. In all, he allegedly defrauded the nine restaurants of $1,400. Other eateries included Grand Canyon Restaurant, Bistro 237 and New Punjab Restaurant and Grill.
"Perhaps more importantly, Kountis' actions resulted in the public being substantially misled into believing that restaurants they might wish to patronize had received higher sanitary grades than they merited," DOI said.
The Department of Investigation said Kountis created the fake A grade cards from a real one that he obtained after arguing the case of a restaurant called Red Mist. That restaurant told DOI that it never received its A grade card as promised by Kountis.
DOI said Kountis denied the allegations and suggested a former employee of his consulting company was using his identity. Investigators said restaurant employees provided DOI with descriptions that matched Kountis, not his employee.
There was no attorney information on file for Kountis.