Credit: Laura Hayes

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Dacha Beer Garden owners Ilya Alter and Dmitri Chekaldin are staring down a lawsuit surrounding the expenses related to supplying their sprawling new Navy Yard location that opened earlier this spring with everything from heavy duty kitchen equipment to plates and glasses.

On Monday, Washingtonian reported on the complaint. It alleges that Dacha owes restaurant supply company TriMark Adams-Burch $277,453 in outstanding bills. It also accuses the restaurateurs of “fraud, ill-will, recklessness, wantonness, oppressiveness, and willful disregard of Adams-Burch’s rights with evil motive or actual malice.”

Specifically, the compliant states that Adams-Burch began delivering orders to Dacha Beer Garden despite having concerns that payments were “routinely late and in some instances, never arrived.” That’s when, according to the complaint, Alter “directed Chekaldin to sign an ACH authorization allowing Adams-Burch to draw directly from Alter’s Eagle Bank account on a monthly basis, and on May 14, 2019, Alter provided Adams-Burch with a credit card payment authorization allowing for charges to be made against a credit card bearing his name.” The complaint says this was done to assure Adams-Burch the money was coming.

But when Adams-Burch issued a $23,614.05 charge against the credit card in May to chip away at money owed, according to the complaint, Alter “accused Adams-Burch of fraud, had the charges reversed, and revoked authorization for Adams-Burch to charge from the ACH and his credit card, leaving Adams-Burch with no means of receiving payment for the $277,453.53.”  

This is not the first time Alter has made headlines for financial woes. He was one of the so-called “Dewey Seven.” The group of former Dewey & LeBoeuf law firm employees pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in 2014, admitting their involvement in a four-year scheme to manipulate the firm’s finances to help it stay afloat. The New York Times reported that the goal of the scheme was to keep the firm in business and “persuade investors and banks to provide it with badly needed financing.” 

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance filed a 106-count indictment in March of that year against the law firm’s top three executives. The seven lower level employees who cooperated with investigators faced minimal consequences. Alter had to complete 200 hours of community service. The identities of the “Dewey Seven” were initially sealed, then they became public. Alter was the firm’s director of budgeting and planning. According to his LinkedIn page, he worked for the firm for six years. 

Alter’s involvement in the financial scandal was known to Dacha employees, according to two former workers who asked to remain anonymous. “It was brought to my attention by a few staff members,” one says. “Maybe … he’s trying to clean up his act. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.”

City Paper reached out to Alter for comment and heard from his attorney, Andrew Kline, instead. Kline is representing Dacha in the Adams-Burch suit and says his client was merely a back office employee following directives from actual lawyers at Dewey & LeBoeuf. 

“He was a minor player in the collapse in the fraud activities of a major national law firm where he worked for partners who made decisions about the finances of that law firm,” Kline says. “He cooperated fully with authorities and was instrumental in bringing this matter to a close.” 

Kline also pointed City Paper to a statement Dacha Beer Garden offered in response to Washingtonian’s story, which PoPville first published. It primarily addresses how employees were paid at the Navy Yard business. Washingtonian reported that the automatic “18 percent gratuity” that was being added to checks wasn’t going to workers. “Gratuities are not distributed amongst employees,” Alter told the magazine. “Gratuities are the revenue of the business.” Dacha responded in the statement saying, “Every single dollar brought in through this method is returned to Dacha’s employees.”

Semantics are important because diners want to know where their money is going. “Gratuity,” suggests a direct tip to the individual or team that took care of the customer, while “service charge” is more commonly used at businesses that have swapped out tips for a payment method that shares the service charge between dining room and kitchen employees. The service charge belongs to the business operator, who determines how to distribute it. 

The statement also touches on the TriMark Adams-Burch accusations.

Yesterday’s article also mentioned that a kitchen equipment supplier has filed a lawsuit against Dacha. This suit includes a frivolous claim of fraud, that arises out of nothing more than a contractual dispute concerning amounts allegedly due for kitchen equipment. The supplier has over-charged Dacha for what was provided, and when Dacha simply requested support for the charges, the supplier hired a national law firm to sue Dacha and its owners for fraud. Dacha expects it will prevail on the unfounded fraud claim and will vigorously defend the underlying breach of contract action which seeks recovery of amounts not due.

Regarding the Adams-Burch lawsuit, Kline says: “Only in the land of big law firms is a breach of contract action prosecuted as fraud. It’s all kind of silly.”