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N.Y. Steakhouse Waiters Accused of Stealing Customer Card Data

Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Waiters at Smith & Wollensky, the Capital Grille and other New York area restaurants copied customers’ credit cards and passed them on to a crime ring that bought luxury goods, prosecutors said.

The midtown Manhattan dining room at Smith & Wollensky, the steakhouse chain, is where 81-year-old billionaire Warren Buffett, the chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., takes the winner of his annual charity auction for lunch.

Charges against 28 people were announced yesterday by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office. The crimes allegedly occurred from April 2010 to this month and involved at least 50 American Express account holders, the prosecutors said.

Merchandise from outlets such as Chanel, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman, including $1 million worth of watches, was sometimes sold on the Internet, according to prosecutors.

Vance said the case was far from unique.

“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,” he said in the statement.

Waiters used credit-card skimming devices to steal account numbers, then passed on the information to Luis Damian Jacas, who oversaw the operation, the district attorney alleged.

The restaurants also included Wolfgang’s Steakhouse and JoJo Steakhouse in Manhattan and Morton’s the Steakhouse in Stamford, Connecticut, Vance’s office said.

Also charged were about 10 “shoppers” who were given forged credit cards and sometimes drivers’ licenses, using them at Neiman Marcus, Cartier, Hermes of Paris, Burberry, Jimmy Choo and Starbucks, authorities said.

Shopping trips were made in Manhattan, Westchester County, Nassau County, Florida, Boston and Chicago, the DA’s complaint said. Some goods were sold online and others to individuals, the prosecutors said.

The district attorney charged members of the group with 172 counts of crimes that included conspiracy, enterprise corruption and grand larceny, according to the statement.

The case is People v. Jacas, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Kary in New York at tkary@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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