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In addition to our normal news coverage, What Now Atlanta is tracking ways Atlanta’s businesses are adapting to the novel coronavirus and the challenges it brings to brick-and-mortars.
Niko Karatassos, president of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, Thursday opened an investigation with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) over a case of “attempted extortion.”
Karatassos received several emails from an “unknown person” alleging the popular Atlanta hospitality company kept its Chops Lobster Bar restaurant open even as employees fell ill with COVID-19, and demanded $10,000 to keep quiet, according to a statement from APD.
“The preliminary information indicates Mr. Karatassos received several emails today from an unknown person claiming they knew some of his employees had tested positive for COVID and his restaurant should be shut down because of this,” Officer Anthony W. Grant with APD Public Affairs, Thursday told What Now Atlanta (WNA) in an email.
“The unknown person claimed they were going to contact the media unless Mr. Karatassos wired them $10,000. A report regarding attempted extortion has been completed and investigators will be working to determine the source of the emails. At this time, the investigation continues.”
The incident report, which was made available Friday, can be downloaded here.
Karatassos on Thursday categorically denied allegations that the company had been operating with sick employees when reached over the telephone by WNA and said the unknown person, who claimed to work at Chops, was looking to use the coronavirus crisis to prey on his business.
“Chops has recently become a victim of blackmail and extortion from an anonymous source who is demanding ten thousand dollars to be wired into their bank account or they will go to the press with false allegations,” Karatassos later in the day told WNA in a prepared statement.
“We have filed a case with the Atlanta Police Department with an impending FBI investigation. In addition, Chops has required 100% of its employees to get tested for COVID-19 and only staff members with negative results are allowed to work. In the best interest of our employees and guests, we are striving every day to establish the gold standard in health and safety.”
Chops reopened its dining room in early May to state-required safety guidelines including a face covering on all employees like the one pictured above, worn by the restaurant’s General Manager Kevin Brown.
WNA on Thursday ahead of reaching out to Karatassos for comment received an email from the same unknown person, filled with similar allegations, asking that the publication “investigate this further.”
“In fear of losing my job I don’t want to give my name but I’m willing to speak with you if need be,” according to the anonymous email.
WNA Thursday spoke to several Chops employees to corroborate claims that the restaurant was “threatening” its staff to be quiet about sick employees.
Workers when reached over the phone declined to comment. At least one employee had not been back to work since mid-March, they said.
[Editor’s Note 1: This article was updated with a copy of the incident report when APD made it available Friday.]
[Editor’s Note 2: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is rapidly evolving as is its effect on Atlanta, and the City’s businesses and its residents. Click here for What Now Atlanta’s ongoing coverage of the crisis. For guidance and updates on the pandemic, please visit the C.D.C. website.]