Steakhouse Waiters Busted in Alleged Identity Theft Ring

They worked at high-end restaurants and stole from customers with AmEx Black and other high-limit credit cards

More than two dozen current and former waiters and their associates from some of the city's top steakhouses have been arrested in an alleged identity theft ring, accused of stealing credit card numbers from wealthy customers, authorities said Friday.

The Manhattan district attorney, police and the U.S. Secret Service announced the arrests Friday involving a 28-person ring that operated at top metro-area restaurants like Smith & Wollensky, Capital Grille and Wolfgang Steak, as well as Morton’s in Stamford, Conn. and the Bicycle Club in New Jersey.

The story was first reported Thursday by NBC New York.

The group of people includes at least one person still on the run. That man, Gregory Portacio, served time for a high-profile Queens murder in 1980. Portacio, then 20, tried to grab a woman's gold necklace, but when it didn't break, he and his accomplice dragged her alongside his moving car, killing her.

The alleged credit-card scam targeted customers who often paid with American Express Black cards and other high-limit credit cards.

Prosecutors said restaurant workers used handheld scanners to copy the credit card information as they walked away to process the bill. Later, that information would be sent to leaders of the alleged fraud ring, who would forge new credit cards with the stolen information and test them out on taxis.

If the cards worked, the suspects would go on major shopping sprees, buying up expensive goods at stores including Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Hermes and Cartier. The thieves would then re-sell the luxury brand items on eBay for cash.

Officials estimate profits totaled at least $1 million, officials said.

“The high-end targets of this case make it notable, but disturbingly this case is far from unique,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “Every day, hardworking New Yorkers find themselves the victims of identity theft -- their financial information stolen from ATMs, from internet transactions, from financial institutions and from retailers."

In all, seven waiters were charged, plus their associates. Many of the suspects were being arraigned on racketeering and other charges in Manhattan criminal court on Friday.

The Capital Grille said in a statement it had not been contacted by authorities about the arrests, but said it was likely connected to an incident in January "involving a single former employee" of the restaurant.

"We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to something like this," the restaurant said.

Managers at Smith & Wollensky and the Bicycle Club restaurants declined to comment. 

A manager at one Wolfgang’s restaurant said he believed all workers on the schedule Thursday had arrived and was unaware of any law enforcement allegations against any worker. 

A manager at Morton's also referred calls to its corporate headquarters.

Officials stress restaurant operators had no knowledge of the alleged crimes by the few employees.

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