Restaurantuer Ashok Bajaj

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It was a subject neither Ashok Bajaj nor Y&H really wanted to broach, but there it was, lying like a dead body in the trunk of a car: the restaurant credit-card scam, as reported on Sunday by The Examiner. The paper wrote that three men were apparently buying stolen credit card numbers from servers at area restaurants, including Bajaj’s 701 on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bajaj, of course, doesn’t want diners to think their bank accounts are vulnerable at his restaurants. Y&H doesn’t want readers to think he’s a dolt for picking Bajaj as the second best restaurateur in town. We had mutual interest in saving face.

For his part, Bajaj says he cooperated fully with the Secret Service investigation. The agency approached Bajaj about the alleged scam, and the restaurateur agreed to keep the server, Lavelle Denise Payne, employed long enough for agents to collect evidence. According to the Examiner story, Payne has now been charged in the credit-card thefts.

“I didn’t have to let her go,” Bajaj says. “They took her.”

Bajaj admits that he’s a shaken-up by the events—-for both his customers and for the former employee. Until her implication in the crime, Payne had seemed like a model employee. “It’s sad to see this happen,” Bajaj adds. “She had a child. She was so nice. It’s like, ‘Wow.'”

As for the credit-card thefts, Bajaj says there’s only so much you can do to prevent employees stealing numbers. He, like many other restaurateurs, has built-in procedures to catch employees stealing numbers, but only after the fact. The owner has no idea how many numbers were stolen during Payne’s brief time at 701.

“The sad thing is, [credit card theft] happens every single day,” Bajaj says. “Not just in my restaurants, [but] in every single restaurant.”

“There’s nothing I could have done differently,” the owner adds. “You have no way of knowing it.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery