Lies: An American Bistro (LMGTFY)

Remember Valenti’s? The ill-fated red-sauce joint in the Budwey’s plaza in North Tonawanda became locally famous thanks to a glowing Janice Okun review in the Buffalo News, which contained wild fantasies concocted by owners Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio about Terry’s defeat of Bobby Flay in the “battle parsnips” on an episode of Iron Chef America that never existed. I think it’s bad form to stretch the truth on a resume, but to make up a blatant lie that a simple Google search can disprove is ridiculous. 

Let me Google that for you

Last week, an article briefly appeared about a former local chef who had made similar embellishments to his resume. Kevin O’Connell, Jr. (yes, his dad does the weather for Channel 2), was the chef/part owner of what was O’Connell’s Hourglass on Kenmore Avenue before progressively downscaling itself into a “bistro”, replete with nightclub acts and comedy nights before shuttering in late 2012. 

We had dined at O’Connells several times throughout its different incarnations and generally enjoyed it. O’Connells Jr. and Sr. were always gregarious and kind to us. I never had a bad experience; quite the contrary. 

And so it was that when Junior left the restaurant and abruptly moved to California, the writing was on the wall – part of the restaurant’s raison d’etre was that it was a family-owned joint, established at least in part to give O’Connell an opportunity to come home to Buffalo and hone his craft. On a few Facebook postings, I noted that I was not surprised when I learned that the place was closing – not as a commentary on its food or service, but based on the fact that, with Junior’s departure, it had effectively ceased to matter. But the weatherman took great offense to this, and tried to humiliate me to his thousands of Facebook “friends”

He tagged me immediately afterwards. I wasn’t a regular, but my family enjoyed his food, and we celebrated many an event at his restaurant. When Junior unexpectedly up and moved to LA in August 2012, I was surprised, and figured the place wasn’t going to last. There was other scuttlebutt involved, but I never mentioned it. Now this weatherman is insulting me like this as if I was to blame for the place closing, yet I never wrote a negative syllable about it?  I know Junior was pissed because I wrote “not surprised” when someone on the Buffalo foodie group mentioned the sudden appearance of a “for sale” sign. Yeah, not surprised the place is for sale when the chef moves 3k miles away. Here was my comment on weatherboy’s wall: 

Here, by the way, is the only thing I ever wrote – publicly or privately – about O’Connells. What a monster I am.

Soon after Kevin O’Connell Jr. returned to Buffalo, he was sent to federal prison on a conviction of stealing $44,000 from various diners’ credit cards in a scam at a prior restaurant he co-owned in Montana. Prosecutors called it “deliberate fraud”. I defended him then, arguing that he was paying his debt to society, was making restitution, and deserved a second chance. I am clearly a horrible person. 

In any event, last week the excrement hit the fan when Junior’s new restaurant posted a resume out of a creative writing class. An article briefly posted at the Spree’s website has since been taken down. Forget that for a second, and don’t worry about why it’s gone. 

Here is how not to promote yourself – here is the Kevin O’Connell, Jr. resume, as it appeared at this web address just last week (taken January 17, 2014 at 3pm – and here is a PDF of what was posted): 

Professional Background

1998-2001 Babbo Ristorante New York, New York
Sous Chef, Chef de Cuisine

Returning from Europe I was hired as the opening sous chef for the acclaimed Italian eatery by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. I was honored and excited to be a part of an incredible team that made this the most authentic and popular Italian eatery in the United States, winning best new restaurant in numerous publications. I was promoted to Chef de Cuisine after 7 months and Chef Batali’s opening of Lupa. I was honored in 2001 to be named a James Beard award winner for Best New Chef Northeast. Shortly after I had the opportunity to open my first establishment and took that opportunity with Chef’s blessing and full support.

I don’t know whether he was the opening sous at Babbo, but the James Beard award claim is pure nonsense. O’Connell has never won—nor been nominated for—a James Beard Award. The award he is claiming to have received in 2001 is a mess of half-truths spliced together, none of which include him. Batali did win several awards in 2001, including one for Esca as Best New Restaurant. But the list of the Best Chefs of the Northeast (and nominees) bear no mention of Junior. Additionally,the James Beard Foundation gives New York City chefs and restaurants their own awards, separate from the rest of the Northeast. (Here are the JBF award listings for 199819992000, and 2001.) Or just search the JBF website for any mention of Kevin O’Connell, Jr. You’ll be disappointed.

2001-2003 Rue Franklin Park Slope, Brooklyn

Owner/Chef

After such a fantastic experience with fine Italian cuisine in Manhattan, I reached out and opened a small French bistro in the up and coming neighborhood of Park Slope. A 45 seat restaurant that had a menu that changed daily and featured the provisions of the area as well as fresh imported French favorites. In early 2002 the New York Times rated our restaurant 2 stars which at the time was the only 2 star establishment outside of the immediate Manhattan dining area. We were nominated for best new restaurant from the James Beard Foundation and won best new restaurant from the New Yorker and the Village Voice. I left the business to open another establishment in Late 2003 but continued ownership until 2006.

The Village Voice’s 2001 list doesn’t show “Rue Franklin Park Slope”. In fact, a search of the entire Village Voice website for “Rue Franklin” comes up empty. Same thing with the New Yorker. I tried looking in New York Magazine, but couldn’t find anything – its online archives are not jam-packed. But I couldn’t find any evidence of this restaurant existing. New York Times 2 stars? I did a search of the New York Times archive for 1/1/01 – 1/1/04 for “Rue Franklin” and nothing came up

2003-2005 Employees Only New York, New York
Partner/Chef

After being approached in early 2003 from 5 of my college fraternity brothers and friends to help open a bar in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, we as a group opened Employees Only, a 20’s style cocktail lounge. Starting in a very small kitchen and serving a very limited menu in March 2004 we acquired the space in the rear of the bar formerly a tailor shop and expanded to a full service restaurant. We were named Best Cocktail Bar in the United States by GQ magazine in 2004 and 2005, we were named Best Cocktail Bar in New York from 2004 to 2007. We published our first cookbook of cocktails in 2010 and made the New York Times Best Seller List. I stepped down as Chef in 2005 to pursue another project in my home town of Buffalo New York. I still maintain my partnership with the restaurant and the company which has opened 5 more establishments 4 in New York and One in Washington DC.

The idea that Junior ever worked at Employees Only in any capacity is dubious. Why take credit for a book published five years after you’ve left a place – a book about cocktails? A phone call to the bar reveals the truth pretty quickly. Just call and ask them.  

Also, anyone notice the glaring omission of Indigo, the place in Montana where he got busted for bad checks and credit card fraud? Well, it wasn’t always Indigo. It started out as “Blue Smoke”. He changed it to “Indigo: An American Bistro”.  Just like in Buffalo, when he changed “O’Connell’s Hourglass” to “O’Connell’s American Bistro”.  Just like in Los Angeles, when his new venture, 9 Olives folded after less than a year, he tried to change it to “Punk’s”, (Twitter here) but got a new gig at a place called Carson House. It’s got a new concept. Care to guess? “Carson House: An American Bistro“. 

Great Falls’ Indigo closed in June 2005 – around the time Junior claims to have left Employees Only. 

Incidentally, this Great Falls, MT story about O’Connell’s change to Indigo is dated February 2003 – around the time that Junior claims to have joined Employees Only. And here’s what he told the local paper in Montana in 2004

O’Connell was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and raised in Los Angeles. He got his bachelor’s degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and received his master’s in hotel and restaurant management from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

In 2000, he moved to Fort Benton after landing an executive chef position at the exquisite Union Grille Restaurant in the Grand Union Hotel.

“I had gotten engaged, and I needed a place to settle down and raise a family,” he said. “It was an abrupt culture shock. I went from a 3-million-person metro to a town with 1,000 people where everybody knows everybody’s name and birth date.”

A year and a half later, O’Connell ventured back to city life, opening the Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant in the Lobby Bar in Great Falls.

No Babbo. No Rue Franklin Park Slope. Fort Benton, MT

2005-2010 O’Connells American Bistro Buffalo, New York
Owner/Chef

I had the opportunity to purchase a famed Buffalo landmark restaurant in my fathers former neighborhood where he grew up. O’Connells American Bistro was to be an ode to all that I had experienced in both Europe and my time in Manhattan. It opened to rave reviews and earned 4 stars from the Buffalo News and Critic Janice Okun (1 of 4 restaurants at the time to receive 4 stars)
I was honored to be invited 4 times to the James Beard House to cook with my crew, we received a Best New Restaurant nomination from the Beard Foundation in 2006, and we were named Best Restaurant by Buffalo Spree, the Buffalo News, and Spot Magazine 2005, 2007, 2009. With the blessing of my family I shuttered the Bistro in Early 2010 to explore a restaurant opportunity in Los Angeles.

No, the James Beard Foundation did not nominate Junior nor his restaurant for anything in 2006. What the hell is “Spot Magazine”? The Buffalo News doesn’t give out “best restaurant” annual awards. Buffalo Spree didn’t give him best restaurant ever;  not in 2007, not in 2009. Spree didn’t do “best of” in 2005. 

Janice Okun gave O’Connell’s Hourglass 3.5 stars in 2005, and 4 stars in 2009. She gave O’Connell’s American Bistro 3.5 stars in 2011. Nevertheless, he did not shutter the Bistro in 2010, but in late 2012, soon after his move to LA. 

2010-2013 9 Olives Los Angeles, California
Owner/Chef

I had the great opportunity to open a restaurant in a building that was formerly Charlie Chaplins Home on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The restaurant was a labor of love, as I grew up in Los Angeles and had many fond memories and friends still in this community. 9 Olives was opened up as a ode to old Hollywood and specialized in fresh farm to table food and excellent service. Couple with a cocktail program that was to mirror that of employees only in NY and a wine list with fine California and European Vintages. Upon opening we received wonderful critical acclaim via LA Weekly, Sunset Magazine, and Bon Appetit magazine that named us on of the Hot 5 new restaurants in Los Angeles. Though a critical success, the size and vibe of the area did not warrant a fine dining upscale restaurant. In early 2013 we changed to a lounge tapas style establishment. This was a successful change and though hitting its stride in October of 2013 I sold my interest in 9 Olives to pursue other ventures.

Perhaps he fudged the closing date of the Bistro to make 9 Olives seem more successful than it was? Either way, I don’t see anything about 9 Olives at Bon Appetit, Sunset, or LA Weekly. What I did find was Yelp reviews, and the last handful cited Living Social and Groupon online coupons they had bought. Time Out LA never reviewed it. It has one stellar Tripadvisor review, nothing at Gayot. Not much of anything, really. 

Associations

Member of Alex’s Lemonade Stand ( pediatric cancer)
Member in Good Standing ACF
Sitting Board Member Share our Strength (Chef’s against Hunger)
Board of Directors Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship
Board of Directors Alumni Scholarship Dartmouth College

I can’t tell if he’s a member of Alex’s or the American Culinary Federation. Google has no hits for a “Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship”. I don’t see his name on the Dartmouth College website. No, he isn’t a board member – sitting or otherwise – for Share our Strength

Now, all of the materials shown above are gleaned easily online. You will note that I have not made a judgment call here about O’Connell’s food, or how he sources it. I frankly don’t care. The restaurant is closed, he’s 3,000 miles away, and like I said, I never had a meal there that I regretted. But that resume – there’s a reason it’s not online anymore.   

In December 2013, the owners of the Carson House contacted me to inquire about the credit card fraud case, because I had written about it at the time. They were about to hire O’Connell, and wanted to get more information. Of course, the credit card matter was in Montana, and not in New York, so whatever information I had about it was from the media. I’m also a lawyer and acutely aware of defamation jurisprudence. This is what I wrote back: 

I don’t have any information to contradict what Kevin has told you. From my experience, Kevin wasn’t involved in any unethical or larcenous behavior during his run at O’Connell’s in Buffalo.

Soon after arriving to town, he had to answer charges in federal court and was sentenced to a year in prison. He has always been candid and repentant about the fraud issue, as far as I know, but I would recommend perhaps speaking with the prosecutor who tried the case, or a reporter in Montana who covered the case to determine if he is being candid and accurate in his portrayal of the facts viz. his involvement. I would Google “O’Connell and Indigo Lounge and Great Falls”.

Kevin is a talented chef and good at promoting himself and his endeavors. We miss him here.

Now? He’s making up a new background for himself, and partying it up in L.A. while the mothers of his two children are waiting on child support; while his kids wonder where their dad went; while Senior apparently treats the mothers of his grandkids like garbage; while Junior traipses around the country like some manbaby, making up a new story at every stop.  

If you’re going to make stuff up, make it minimally credible. 

Valenti’s: Where are they Now (Slight Return)

Remember yesterday, when I indicated that I didn’t know where they were? Well, I did know, but wasn’t at liberty to reveal their location  because of pending legal matters.

Well, they’re in the Dallas area and had been leasing kitchen space in a nursing facility. There was supposed to be a meeting yesterday to let the residents complain about the food coming out of that kitchen. In the meantime, as seen above, Valenti was arrested on the newly re-filed Midland County forgery charge and is being held in a Dallas County Jail on $10,000 bond. Now you know. Karma and whatnot. 

Valenti’s: Where are they Now?

A little over a year ago, then-Buffalo News restaurant critic Janice Okun reviewed a seemingly pedestrian and typical red sauce joint that had recently opened in a plaza in North Tonawanda.

In ten years of blogging, no other series of blog posts I’ve ever done so completely unraveled some bad journalism, a pack of clumsy lies, or generated quite as much conversation in comments and social media. The saga of Valenti’s will go down in the annals of western New York’s culinary lore. 

 At the time, it was fun to deconstruct Okun’s reviews, and how they emphasized booth comfort while de-emphasizing food taste and quality. Yet the Valenti’s review was different, because Okun’s review recounted how the young owner-chef had recently returned to his native western New York after stints as an executive chef in Texas and Florida. But that’s not all – Valenti was reportedly so accomplished that he supposedly competed against – and defeated – celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the TV program “Iron Chef America”. This was a lie. It was alleged that Mr. Valenti’s culinary excellence had rendered the lowly parsnip into something so delightful that the judges were floored.  Here is a snippet from Okun’s review, which I annotated at the time: 

To this day, I don’t know what constitutes “parsnip cuisine”, nor do I understand how it could be the “parsnips that did it” if, apparently, they were the secret ingredient for the fictional episode on which Valenti never appeared.  In fact, the image shown above reflects the Buffalo News’ first edit of the review, to remove a mention that Valenti had appeared on Iron Chef America in 2003. At that time, no such show existed. Valenti also claimed to have graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1993 – another lie confirmed by that institution’s spokesman, Jeff Levine. By the end of that particular Friday, Okun’s review in the online Gusto was changed to read thusly: 

As it turned out, he never could have been a cook at Mama Leone’s, either, as it had long since closed by the time he allegedly graduated from the CIA

But don’t blame Ms. Okun – she was doing what a lot of journalists do; transcribing press releases almost verbatim.

But Valenti’s had bigger problems than just a cook with a false resume. Terry Valenti and his girlfriend Lori Brocuglio opened the restaurant with a partner in September 2011. It was a problem tenant for plaza owner Frank Budwey almost from day one. By early February, Valenti’s was evicted for failing to pay back rent. It had loads of debt and a trail of people who had been taken advantage of.  Among them was Valenti’s and Brocuglio’s nominal “partner” in the business, Melissa Janiszewski, who had signed on for all the business’ liabilities, but had no access to the restaurant’s finances, no signing privileges on the business’ accounts, and (ultimately luckily for her), was not named on the lease.  It appeared to be was a bust-out scenario, where Valenti and Brocuglio used Janiszewski’s good credit to run up debt, skip town, and leave her holding the bag. Luckily, she got wise and sought help, but not soon enough to avoid a bankruptcy filing. 

Dramatically, during the late January 2012 eviction trial in North Tonawanda City Court, Terry Valenti was taken into custody on a Texas felony warrant for forgery. After losing his job at Captain Hiram’s in Florida, Valenti moved to Texas, where he cooked at a retirement community in Odessa. Valenti stands accused of forging an ex-girlfriend’s name on a Power of Attorney and title, to fraudulently transfer a motor vehicle for his benefit. The whole saga is available here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated herehereherehereherehere, and here.)

So, where are they now? 

By late February, Budwey had contracted with Cash Auctions to sell off the contents of Valenti’s Restaurant. The building now houses North Tonawanda’s own branch of Mighty Taco. 

In April 2012, a Midland County Texas grand jury indicted Valenti on the forgery charge. Interestingly, around that same time, there was a rumor that Valenti was back in western New York, looking to start up a new restaurant on Delaware Avenue, and was supposedly trying to recruit people who had worked for him in North Tonawanda.  This turned out never to have materialized, thankfully. 

By late June 2012, the Texas charges against Valenti were still pending, and he was appearing there in person with counsel. Meanwhile, in Florida, Valenti’s ex-wife initiated a court action seeking physical custody of their son. Lori Brocuglio’s ex-husband in Florida had custody of their son, and an action was brought to allow his new wife to adopt. Brocuglio contested the adoption, but the court instructed her that she needed physically to appear in court to testify – the problem is that there were a couple of minor warrants out for Ms. Brocuglio in that state, rendering her appearance a tricky proposition, at best. Meanwhile, Mr. Budwey’s criminal complaint against Ms. Brocuglio for grand larceny is still pending in North Tonawanda City Court and scheduled for an appearance in February. 

Meanwhile, the entire time they lived in western New York, Valenti and Brocuglio rented a living space in Eden. 

By July, Valenti had rejected a guilty plea in Texas that would have resulted in probation, court costs, and restitution. As for the adoption case involving Ms. Brocuglio, when process servers in New York attempted to serve papers on her, Valenti told them that she had moved back to Connecticut. This was quickly resolved – during the time that Mr. Valenti had to appear in Texas, they re-served papers in Eden knowing that the only person who would be home would be Ms. Brocuglio.  On July 29th, she was home, and she was served. 

But Valenti and Brocuglio attempted to fight back.  Valenti sought a temporary restraining order against Valenti’s ex-girlfriend, but failed to serve it in a way that could be enforced against a non-resident of New York. At best, it was a nullity; at worst, it was an attempt to intimidate the star witness in the Texas forgery trial. Nothing ever came of the TRO. Lori Brocuglio lost her parental rights as to the son in Florida in November on the grounds of abandonment. Terry Valenti’s ex now has physical custody of their son in New York. He is also about $13,000 in arrears on child support. There are no-contact orders imposed upon Valenti and Brocuglio in connection with these actions. The forgery action in Texas had to be re-filed and a new indictment was issued in December, and that matter is still pending. 

About that place in Eden: as you might expect, Valenti and Brocuglio ended up mistreating their landlords there, as well. They were forced to bring two eviction actions against them; the first time, they obtained an emergency rent assistance loan from Erie County, and the back rent was paid. By July 2012, the landlords were dealing primarily with Brocuglio, who indicated she was going to Texas. After the second eviction for non-payment, the judge gave Valenti and Brocuglio a week to show receipts that $3,000 was paid.  It hadn’t been. Not only did Valenti and Brocuglio skip out on back rent, but they are alleged to have stolen or sold items belonging to the landlords that were stored on the property, such as an upright air compressor, a drill press, welders, and a John Deere tractor and trailer.  The house was left in a horrible state, filled with garbage and junk. They left moldy, rotten food in the refrigerator, moldy clothes in the washer, food and garbage in the dishwasher, 36 bags of garbage, six truckloads of garbage furniture, six very large televisions, and tons of clothes and belongings left behind. Among the treats Valenti and Brocuglio left behind was shut-off of all utilities for non-payment, including $800 for electric fees. Because the electric system ultimately needed to be changed, it took three months and thousands of dollars to do so and also to clean up the property. 

Their whereabouts are not precisely known at this time, but Ms. Brocuglio’s grand larceny charge is set for an appearance in North Tonawanda City Court on February 7th.  There are also rumors swirling of new charges. 

Throughout all of this – right up to the present day – a very cohesive group of former strangers has formed, all with one thing in common – each one has been cheated or mistreated by Mr. Valenti, Ms. Brocuglio, or both. Through a bizarre set of Artvoice posts – all relating to a strange restaurant review in the Buffalo News – these people have developed a virtual support group to help each other find out where these two are, what they’re up to, whom they might be taking advantage of, and to generally vent about the wrongs done to them at the hands of Iron Chef Parsnips and his henchwoman. There have been bankruptcies, lawsuits, criminal actions, threats, harassment, child custody actions, evictions – federal, state, and interstate civil and criminal litigation has arisen as a result of two apparent sociopaths riding roughshod through the country, leaving behind a trail of debt, lies, broken lives, and broken property. The Valenti / Brocuglio fact pattern could very easily be an essay question on a bar exam. 

In the end, be nice to people. Treat them with respect, fairness, and kindness. If you don’t, you could be in for a world of hurt, and karma will indeed maintain its reputation for being a bitch. 

Valenti's: The Eden FOIL

This is the final set of documents I’ve received pursuant to Freedom of Information Law requests, relating to the owners of the 2 1/2-star Valenti’s Restaurant. These are public records that are available to anyone. Out of an abundance of caution, I have redacted names and contact information of minors and some other individuals who have not been part of the general Valenti’s story.

And after reviewing these three municipalities’ FOILs, ask yourself: how many times have you had police involvement in your life since November of last year? Valenti’s: The Eden FOIL

Valenti’s: The Eden FOIL

This is the final set of documents I’ve received pursuant to Freedom of Information Law requests, relating to the owners of the 2 1/2-star Valenti’s Restaurant. These are public records that are available to anyone. Out of an abundance of caution, I have redacted names and contact information of minors and some other individuals who have not been part of the general Valenti’s story.

And after reviewing these three municipalities’ FOILs, ask yourself: how many times have you had police involvement in your life since November of last year? Valenti’s: The Eden FOILhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/81580261/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-1mkypr8w9iqpo918q0jj

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Valenti’s: The West Seneca FOIL

Complaints of criminality against Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio – formerly of the late, unlamented, Okun 2 1/2 star-rated “Valenti’s Restaurant” – reached even into towns with which they were unaffiliated. After all, the couple lived in Eden and their restaurant was in North Tonawanda. So, why did I FOIL the West Seneca Police Records? 

Because Brocuglio’s “partner”, Melissa Janiszewski, lives there, and I thought there might be something on file.  I fully expected no hits, but instead I got two revealing pages. 

On January 18, 2012, Janiszewski contacted the West Seneca police to inform them that she had unexpectedly received in the mail a bill from Time Warner Cable for $211.99. It was interesting because Janiszewski doesn’t have a Time Warner Cable account in her name, and because it was for service to a residence at 9003 Gowanda State Road in Eden. Coincidentally, that is the address where Valenti and Brocuglio lived. 

Brocuglio had filed an earlier police report against Janiszewski, claiming that she had property belonging to her. The police took no action, as it was a civil matter and not any sort of theft. 

Valenti’s and Brocuglio’s apparent theft and use of Janiszewski’s credit and identity in order to secure services from Time Warner Cable, however, are quite serious. Especially because it’s unclear whether this was an isolated incident, or a pattern of behavior that has yet to be uncovered. 

Valenti’s: The West Seneca FOIL

http://www.scribd.com/embeds/81453515/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-1m2hwgedlxqbvxexn1x7

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Valenti's: The North Tonawanda FOIL

When Terry Valenti called in to the Shredd & Ragan show some weeks ago, he downplayed the police involvement at his now-defunct restaurant as being no big deal. Here are the police reports on Valenti’s dating back to October last year. Is this any way to run a business or conduct oneself?  

On 11/1/11, Valenti threw Brocuglio and Janiszewski off the property, and purported to fire them.

On 11/18/11, Brocuglio claimed that she was being harassed by an ex-employee, and applied for a restraining order.

On 11/26/11, Brocuglio argued with fired employee William Ripley over a “company car”. Brocuglio accused Ripley’s girlfriend of striking her.

On 12/31/11 at 11pm, a black Ford F-250 backed into the east door of the restaurant. Valenti claims he didn’t know whose truck it was, and that he didn’t get the plate number. It was, of course, the truck driven by Lori Brocuglio, but he did not admit this to the police until the following day.  Brocuglio told a police officer that she rammed the truck into the restaurant because, “we were fighting and he went to hit me so I tried backing away but I put it in gear moving forward and hitting the window”. 

On 1/1/12, Valenti and Brocuglio were in an altercation, and Brocuglio’s son was present for it.

On 1/10/12, Budwey made his complaint to the police about the bad $3,000 rent check. 

On 1/11/12, Budwey blocked the doors and told patrons to leave. A Valenti’s employee, Debbie Reining claimed Budwey pushed her out of the store, and pled out a harassment complaint against him. 

On 1/27/12, Budwey returned to the restaurant to curse Brocuglio out using some colorful language. 

Valenti’s: The North Tonawanda FOIL

It Was the Parsnips that Did It

Two updates to the Valenti’s saga

1. Verizon confirms that the restaurant’s phone was in the name of a dead woman. Commenter RoN aka Karma suspected that the reverse phone number search for D.A. Britting constituted fraud or identity theft. I suspected the online resource may have been out-of-date. 

Verizon was able to confirm that the phone number for Valenti’s restaurant (716-692-4339) was, indeed, in the name of “D.A. Britting”. Other online records show it as being in the name of Verne L. Britting.

Verne Britting died in 1985, but his wife, Dorothy A. Britting, died in 2009.

Why was the phone for Valenti’s Restaurant in the name of a woman who died 3 years ago?  Former employees charge that Valenti and Brocuglio used false social security numbers, or numbers belonging to the dead, to set up the phone lines. In one instance, Terry Valenti was heard to say that they could not pay the phone bill in person for that reason. 

2. Terry Valenti was brought before Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy on Thursday morning, where he waived a hearing on his extradition. He will be held in the Niagara County Jail for up to 30 days awaiting transportation to Texas, where he stands accused of forging his name on documents to fraudulently convert, and transfer title in a motorcycle to unjustly enrich himself. Judge Murphy’s clerk says he likes the other state to pick up prisoners on warrants within 10 days.

The End of Valenti’s Restaurant

Yesterday afternoon, North Tonawanda City Court Judge William Lewis awarded Frank Budwey a warrant of eviction against Desires Unlimited d/b/a Valenti’s Restaurant, and a money judgment for $5,200 in unpaid rent, plus $500 in costs and attorney’s fees.  Valenti’s has 30 days to appeal. 

The unusually long and contentious eviction trial took place over two days, and ended one of the more bizarre restaurant stories in recent memory. Just five short weeks ago, veteran Buffalo News restaurant critic Janice Okun lauded the volume of Valenti’s portions and booths, awarding it 2 1/2 stars. In that review, Okun repeated boasts that co-owners Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio had made about Valenti’s work history, including a wild claim that Valenti had defeated Bobby Flay on the TV program Iron Chef America with an award-winning dish of sea bass stuffed with artichokes and parsnips – quite possibly the most exotic “haute cuisine” Valenti could imagine. 

But Valenti’s had bigger problems than just a cook with a false resume. Although Budwey had waived the rent for part of October and all of November, he fully expected payment for December and January at $3,000 per month. By late December, Valenti’s still owed that month’s rent, and was losing purveyor accounts for non-payment. Valenti and Brocuglio paid Budwey $300 around that timeDoctored receipt, and a dispute arose at trial whether they paid $500 or $1500 in cash in early January. The court found that Valenti’s had, in fact, paid $500, because Budwey presented contemporaneous evidence of the cash deposits in both his business ledger and his bank records. He claimed that Lori Brocuglio, who admitted writing “payment in full” on the receipt also doctored it to read $1,500 instead of $500.  

The legal issue is that accepting money as “payment in full” would have potentially bound Budwey to that figure for rents then due and owing. The judge found, however, that other communications from clearly showed that he did not intend to be so bound. Around the same time the receipt was given, a Valenti’s check was made out to Frank “Budway” for $3,000.  Much of Tuesday’s trial centered around how Budwey got the check, and who wrote it. Budwey said either Lori or Terry gave it to him, and he took it to M&T, where he discovered that it would not clear. Budwey then turned the check over to the authorities, and Brocuglio awaits trial on misdemeanor charges of knowingly passing a bad check. 

Here is an example of a check that Brocuglio admits to having written: 

Compare that to the disputed $3,000 rent check that took up so much testimony and argument at trial: 

The mis-spelling of Budway’s name matches Brocuglio’s clumsily constructed Facebook page from last week. 

In rendering his decision, Judge Lewis said that “Brocuglio’s claims fly in the face of the testimony and documents”. He found that it was disingenuous for her to suggest that Budwey forged the check.  Brocuglio likely didn’t realize that Budwey had kept two voice mails she left for him in early January. In the first message, which was played for the judge in court, Brocuglio acknowledges that Terry Valenti had given the check to Budwey, and asks him not to cash it. She said that they would pay the rent via certified funds instead. However, the next day Brocuglio called again, and had completely changed her story.  In a second voice mail played for the judge in court, Brocuglio got a message that Budwey had tried to cash the check, and was notified that the police were now involved. In both calls, she alluded to getting a lawyer to go after Budwey, but now denies knowing of any check, implying that Budwey stole or forged it. 

Brocuglio also claimed that Budwey had agreed to waive the rent for December and January, but the documentary evidence directly contradicted that testimony. 

Brocuglio claimed to the judge that they were ready, willing, and able to pay the rent, but that a dispute that arose with Brocuglio’s nominal “partner” in the business, Melissa Janiszewski, had tied up the bank account. Janiszewski spoke to me in court and disputed this claim, stating that she had no signing privileges on the account, was not named on the account, and that Brocuglio and Valenti had deliberately kept her in the dark about the business’ finances. It was also revealed that Janiszewski, a legal co-owner in the Valenti’s venture, was not named on the lease. Since there’s a money judgment arising out of that lease, she’s rather lucky in this respect, but it indicates that as early as the formation of the business, Valenti and Brocuglio appeared to be conspiring to use Janiszewski as an unwitting pawn in a scheme to run up credit with no intention of repayment. Instead, an old DBA of Terry Valenti’s dating back a decade, the sex-toy-shop-sounding “Desires Unlimited” was listed on the lease as DBA Valenti’s Restaurant. However, a DBA is merely a business name – it is not a legal entity. That’s why the name of a person or corporation precedes the letters “DBA” on legal documents. In this case, however, regardless of the illegality of one DBA doing business as another DBA, Lori Brocuglio signed the lease as a personal guarantor. 

In a dramatic twist in the middle of the trial, Terry Valenti, who looked quite different without his facial hair and bandanna, was escorted from the courtroom by deputies and did not return. Mr. Valenti was apprehended by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office on a felony warrant for forgery originating from Midland County, Texas. After losing his job at Captain Hiram’s in Florida, Valenti moved to Texas, where he cooked at a retirement community in Odessa. Valenti stands accused of forging an ex-girlfriend’s name on a Power of Attorney and title, to fraudulently transfer a motor vehicle for his benefit. Mr. Valenti was led out while Ms. Brocuglio stood at trial with her lawyer, and they were advised of Mr. Valenti’s unexpected departure during a break in the proceedings. He awaits extradition proceedings in the Niagara County Jail

After the proceedings, Mr. Budwey suggested that the Valenti defendants waive any right to retrieve belongings from the restaurant property, and that Budwey would in turn waive the money judgment. For his part, Budwey was happy to have his building back, in the hopes that he can now re-rent it to a less dramatic, more competent tenant. Brocuglio and Valenti had boasted of taking Budwey to Supreme Court for damages relating to his alleged self-help and constructive eviction measures, but with Valenti on his way to Texas and Brocuglio now with a $5000+ judgment over her head, and being behind on the rent at her residential apartment in Eden, it is unknown whether any such action will be pursued. 

Sources who contacted me yesterday add to the story – in running their business, Valenti and Brocuglio used fake social security numbers. When one vendor investigated the Valenti’s operators in an effort to secure fees owed, they discovered that staff – when paid – was paid cash or by business check without required withholdings. They also found that Valenti and Brocuglio had a scheme in the works to use the time between service of the notice to quit and the eviction trial to gut the building and auction off all the contents – Budwey’s “self help” prevented that scheme from taking place, but that Valenti had apparently retained an auctioneer for that purpose. 

Valenti’s restaurant is no more. It leaves behind a trail of cheated vendors and ex-partners. From the documents shown in court, it is safe to presume that it was deceitful not only in its operation, but even in its very foundation. I don’t know whether this is a unique situation, or one that is common in every place, all the time. In the end, Valenti’s taught us that lying isn’t a good business plan, and that it doesn’t take much to operate a reasonably successful red sauce joint in a small Niagara County city, as long as you treat your patrons and employees with respect, and serve decent food at a reasonable price. 

The whole saga (so far) is available here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated hereherehereherehere, here, and here.)

 

The End of Valenti's Restaurant

Yesterday afternoon, North Tonawanda City Court Judge William Lewis awarded Frank Budwey a warrant of eviction against Desires Unlimited d/b/a Valenti’s Restaurant, and a money judgment for $5,200 in unpaid rent, plus $500 in costs and attorney’s fees.  Valenti’s has 30 days to appeal. 

The unusually long and contentious eviction trial took place over two days, and ended one of the more bizarre restaurant stories in recent memory. Just five short weeks ago, veteran Buffalo News restaurant critic Janice Okun lauded the volume of Valenti’s portions and booths, awarding it 2 1/2 stars. In that review, Okun repeated boasts that co-owners Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio had made about Valenti’s work history, including a wild claim that Valenti had defeated Bobby Flay on the TV program Iron Chef America with an award-winning dish of sea bass stuffed with artichokes and parsnips – quite possibly the most exotic “haute cuisine” Valenti could imagine. 

But Valenti’s had bigger problems than just a cook with a false resume. Although Budwey had waived the rent for part of October and all of November, he fully expected payment for December and January at $3,000 per month. By late December, Valenti’s still owed that month’s rent, and was losing purveyor accounts for non-payment. Valenti and Brocuglio paid Budwey $300 around that timeDoctored receipt, and a dispute arose at trial whether they paid $500 or $1500 in cash in early January. The court found that Valenti’s had, in fact, paid $500, because Budwey presented contemporaneous evidence of the cash deposits in both his business ledger and his bank records. He claimed that Lori Brocuglio, who admitted writing “payment in full” on the receipt also doctored it to read $1,500 instead of $500.  

The legal issue is that accepting money as “payment in full” would have potentially bound Budwey to that figure for rents then due and owing. The judge found, however, that other communications from clearly showed that he did not intend to be so bound. Around the same time the receipt was given, a Valenti’s check was made out to Frank “Budway” for $3,000.  Much of Tuesday’s trial centered around how Budwey got the check, and who wrote it. Budwey said either Lori or Terry gave it to him, and he took it to M&T, where he discovered that it would not clear. Budwey then turned the check over to the authorities, and Brocuglio awaits trial on misdemeanor charges of knowingly passing a bad check. 

Here is an example of a check that Brocuglio admits to having written: 

Compare that to the disputed $3,000 rent check that took up so much testimony and argument at trial: 

The mis-spelling of Budway’s name matches Brocuglio’s clumsily constructed Facebook page from last week. 

In rendering his decision, Judge Lewis said that “Brocuglio’s claims fly in the face of the testimony and documents”. He found that it was disingenuous for her to suggest that Budwey forged the check.  Brocuglio likely didn’t realize that Budwey had kept two voice mails she left for him in early January. In the first message, which was played for the judge in court, Brocuglio acknowledges that Terry Valenti had given the check to Budwey, and asks him not to cash it. She said that they would pay the rent via certified funds instead. However, the next day Brocuglio called again, and had completely changed her story.  In a second voice mail played for the judge in court, Brocuglio got a message that Budwey had tried to cash the check, and was notified that the police were now involved. In both calls, she alluded to getting a lawyer to go after Budwey, but now denies knowing of any check, implying that Budwey stole or forged it. 

Brocuglio also claimed that Budwey had agreed to waive the rent for December and January, but the documentary evidence directly contradicted that testimony. 

Brocuglio claimed to the judge that they were ready, willing, and able to pay the rent, but that a dispute that arose with Brocuglio’s nominal “partner” in the business, Melissa Janiszewski, had tied up the bank account. Janiszewski spoke to me in court and disputed this claim, stating that she had no signing privileges on the account, was not named on the account, and that Brocuglio and Valenti had deliberately kept her in the dark about the business’ finances. It was also revealed that Janiszewski, a legal co-owner in the Valenti’s venture, was not named on the lease. Since there’s a money judgment arising out of that lease, she’s rather lucky in this respect, but it indicates that as early as the formation of the business, Valenti and Brocuglio appeared to be conspiring to use Janiszewski as an unwitting pawn in a scheme to run up credit with no intention of repayment. Instead, an old DBA of Terry Valenti’s dating back a decade, the sex-toy-shop-sounding “Desires Unlimited” was listed on the lease as DBA Valenti’s Restaurant. However, a DBA is merely a business name – it is not a legal entity. That’s why the name of a person or corporation precedes the letters “DBA” on legal documents. In this case, however, regardless of the illegality of one DBA doing business as another DBA, Lori Brocuglio signed the lease as a personal guarantor. 

In a dramatic twist in the middle of the trial, Terry Valenti, who looked quite different without his facial hair and bandanna, was escorted from the courtroom by deputies and did not return. Mr. Valenti was apprehended by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office on a felony warrant for forgery originating from Midland County, Texas. After losing his job at Captain Hiram’s in Florida, Valenti moved to Texas, where he cooked at a retirement community in Odessa. Valenti stands accused of forging an ex-girlfriend’s name on a Power of Attorney and title, to fraudulently transfer a motor vehicle for his benefit. Mr. Valenti was led out while Ms. Brocuglio stood at trial with her lawyer, and they were advised of Mr. Valenti’s unexpected departure during a break in the proceedings. He awaits extradition proceedings in the Niagara County Jail

After the proceedings, Mr. Budwey suggested that the Valenti defendants waive any right to retrieve belongings from the restaurant property, and that Budwey would in turn waive the money judgment. For his part, Budwey was happy to have his building back, in the hopes that he can now re-rent it to a less dramatic, more competent tenant. Brocuglio and Valenti had boasted of taking Budwey to Supreme Court for damages relating to his alleged self-help and constructive eviction measures, but with Valenti on his way to Texas and Brocuglio now with a $5000+ judgment over her head, and being behind on the rent at her residential apartment in Eden, it is unknown whether any such action will be pursued. 

Sources who contacted me yesterday add to the story – in running their business, Valenti and Brocuglio used fake social security numbers. When one vendor investigated the Valenti’s operators in an effort to secure fees owed, they discovered that staff – when paid – was paid cash or by business check without required withholdings. They also found that Valenti and Brocuglio had a scheme in the works to use the time between service of the notice to quit and the eviction trial to gut the building and auction off all the contents – Budwey’s “self help” prevented that scheme from taking place, but that Valenti had apparently retained an auctioneer for that purpose. 

Valenti’s restaurant is no more. It leaves behind a trail of cheated vendors and ex-partners. From the documents shown in court, it is safe to presume that it was deceitful not only in its operation, but even in its very foundation. I don’t know whether this is a unique situation, or one that is common in every place, all the time. In the end, Valenti’s taught us that lying isn’t a good business plan, and that it doesn’t take much to operate a reasonably successful red sauce joint in a small Niagara County city, as long as you treat your patrons and employees with respect, and serve decent food at a reasonable price. 

The whole saga (so far) is available here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated hereherehereherehere, here, and here.)

 

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