Ashok Bajaj, the restaurateur behind Rasika, Bombay Club, and Bibiana, has spent his spring in a nasty legal battle with a former server accused of bilking customers.
Stephane Cam, an employee at Bibiana for nearly a year, was arrested May 16 and charged with fraud for allegedly writing in higher tip amounts on credit card receipts left behind by customers.
Just over two months earlier, Cam had brought allegations of his own: He said Bajaj assaulted and threatened him. Bajaj was initially charged with assault, but the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia dismissed the case—which Bajaj’s team says was made up in order to dodge the boss’s scrutiny—within weeks. The fraud case against Cam, however, remains open.
According to a police affidavit filed in DC Superior Court, Cam’s alleged fraud was uncovered after a customer reported an inaccurate credit card charge. Bibiana conducted an audit of all of Cam’s checks and discovered 147 occasions, between May 13, 2016 and March 4 of this year, when diners were overcharged. Cam was fired on April 5, a few days after his assault charge against Bajaj was tossed out. “There were clear alterations on receipts where numbers were changed to increase the value of the tip,” reads the affidavit. The total number of overcharged tips added up to $787.37. Bibiana says it reimbursed the affected customers.
Cam pleaded not guilty. He declined to comment to Washingtonian, referring questions to his lawyers Mark Rollins and Ada Chan. “We submit there are 2 sides to this story,” says Rollins in an email. “It’s early in the case and we are still investigating all issues that may be raised by our client regarding potential retaliation by Mr. Cam’s previous employer.”
In March, Cam accused Bajaj of assaulting him at Bibiana. Cam’s claim came before he was fired or charged with fraud, but according to Bajaj’s lawyer, Danny Onorato, Cam was already aware that Bajaj was unhappy with him when he accused his boss of assault. In an emailed statement to Washingtonian, Onorato says: “A disgruntled employee fabricated charges against Mr. Bajaj, as retaliation for Mr. Bajaj having counseled that employee about his poor work performance.”
According to a police affidavit, Cam said Bajaj approached him while he was placing an order at the computer, then tightly squeezed his neck with two fingers. Cam said Bajaj was upset about a mistake he made during lunch service and alleged that Bajaj said: “‘You are fucking up my restaurant, you are giving the restaurant a bad image, if your father was in this situation, he would have fired you by now. Next time something like this happens, I will fire you and mince you.’” (The affidavit states he used the word mince to mean “to cut up in small pieces.”) Cam’s father is Yannick Cam, executive chef at Bistro Provence in Bethesda, and a longtime Washington restaurateur.
Police interviewed two witnesses, who both said they saw Bajaj put his hand on Cam’s neck, though neither heard him make threats. One witness said Cam “appeared to be shaken up” and had tears in his eyes. Bajaj told police that he placed a hand on Cam’s shoulder and told him “he could not get any complaints in the restaurant.” He denied squeezing or pinching him, or touching his neck.
In his email to Washingtonian, Onorato says, “Anyone who knows Ashok Bajaj can attest that he is a compassionate and peaceful person. …This sequence of events unequivocally illustrates that Mr. Bajaj is innocent of wrongdoing and is simply the high-profile victim of an untrustworthy former employee.”
Cam’s next court date is scheduled for June 12.