Crime

Miami Beach cops: Waiter tried to extort restaurateur with bad online reviews

Jorge Vazquez-Vega
Jorge Vazquez-Vega Miami-Dade Corrections

Demanding $50,000, a disgruntled waiter threatened to “ruin the business reputation” of internationally known South Beach restaurateur Stefano Frittella, police say.

One threat: Bad bogus reviews on the website TripAdvisor.com.

The scheme — including falsely reporting that Frittella employed undocumented immigrants — landed waiter Jorge Luis Vazquez-Vega behind bars on Thursday. Miami Beach police charged him with felony extortion.

“It’s unbelievable,” Frittella told the Miami Herald. “I’ve never had anything like this happen to me.”

Frittella, 53, owns a group of swank restaurants on Miami Beach, including Cafe Milano on Ocean Drive, Cantinetta on Lincoln Road and eateries at the Cardozo and Pelican hotels. He also owns the Bice Ristorante in Palm Beach.

The 53-year-old businessman owns homes in Miami, New York and Monaco. He recently told the Wall Street Journal that he is buying a 6,000-square foot beachfront home at the 13-unit Bath Club Estates in North Beach.

Up until a week ago, Vazquez-Vega, 30, worked as a waiter at Frittella’s Pelican Hotel restaurant.

Last month, Frittella called Miami Beach police after he began receiving text messages from an unknown cellphone.

The texter demanded $50,000 or he would falsely report him to federal authorities for hiring “illegal immigrants,” and to city authorities for code violations. Police say Vazquez-Vega further threatened to “post negative reviews on TripAdvisor.com,” the popular website that allows people to rate tourist destinations and restaurants.

“The defendant maliciously threatened the victim to ruin his business reputation and disgrace him if he did not pay,” according to an arrest report.

Late Wednesday night, police say Vazquez confessed to Miami Beach detectives Gus Sanchez and Danny Erben.

Vazquez-Vega told police he extorted Frittella only because he hadn’t been properly paid. Last month, Frittella’s company settled a federal lawsuit with a group of restaurant employees who claimed Frittella was stiffing them on overtime wages.

Vazquez-Vega was still jailed late Thursday. He could not be reached and it was not known if he had retained an attorney.

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