While the efficacy of the Department of Health’s restaurant letter grades is a matter of debate, the fact remains that restaurant owners are desperate to pass with flying colors. What will some owners do for an A? If you guessed subtly try to stuff $500 into an inspector’s pocket, you are correct. The Wall Street Journal reports that 46-year-old Tony Lam did exactly that when the DOH came to inspect his restaurant at the New World Mall in Flushing. Now he’s facing felony charges of bribery in the third degree. The worst part? Lam is in no way the only person who has tried to bribe the DOH for a passing grade.
Since the grading system was implemented last July, there have been nine arrests for bribery, with the usual bribe between $100 and $500. Jaeyong C. Kim of East Manor Buffet in Queens also tried to bribe the DOH with $500 when they found insects crawling on his food, while Vasko Todoroski of International Bake Shop in Queens tried to give an inspector $300 to give him a B.
Gothamist points out it’s so bad that if inspectors come back to the DOH without reporting a violation, they’ll be suspected of taking a bribe, like when one inspector told reBar owner Jason Stevens, “If I go back to the office without violations on you, they’re going to think you bribed me.”
So, what does this all mean? Is it a good thing that restaurant owners are being kept on their toes, or is it evidence of a dysfunctional, unnecessary government program? One thing is for sure; restaurant owners need to work on their bribing technique.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 29, 2011