Criminal takes advantage of struggling restaurants ordering thousands of dollars worth of food he never planned to pick up.
Restaurants have fallen onto hard times as the coronavirus rages. And, yet, many have been able to stay above water by switching to delivery and drive-thru service only. Others have had to close their doors permanently. This is why it’s almost unfathomable that someone would find it funny to prank those staying open, and yet, it happened. Sudeep Khetani, 34, obviously had too much time on his hands during the quarantine. So, he decided he would call more than a dozen restaurants in his area and use COVID-19 to prank the eateries, stating he needed large orders for local police. He targeted mainly pizzerias, each time indicating he would pick up the pizza orders and deliver to law enforcement.
When Khetani didn’t show, the pizzerias would call the number back and he would make derogatory, generalized statements about Italian Americans, saying he wished the employees would all contract the coronavirus. The cruel calls cost the companies thousands of dollars in wasted pizza orders.
Chief Raymond Hayducka said, “It is incomprehensible that a suspect would play on the goodwill of so many during these difficult times. The suspect once placed an order saying it was coming to South Brunswick Police. We have had several residents send us food, which I appreciate tremendously, but this suspect has gone to a new low. Our businesses are all struggling and every dollar matters. I will not tolerate someone trying to take advantage of our community in these difficult days. I will pursue the strongest of charges and make sure our businesses get their money back.”
South Brunswick Detective Tim Hoover and Middlesex County Prosecutors Office Detective Ryan Tighe were able to track his true identity even though the suspect tried to mask his true phone number. Authorities believe the man is currently hiding out in Orlando, Florida area where they worked with Florida law enforcement to put Khetani on probation for selling fake Disney World tickets. He is now facing charges of theft and may also be charged with cyber harassment and a hate crime.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) recently stated it was worried about the potential for hate crimes amid the pandemic. In a recent letter directed to law enforcement officials across the U.S., FBI Director Christopher Wray wrote that his agency remains “concerned about the potential for hate crimes by individuals and groups targeting minority populations in the United States who they believe are responsible for the spread of the virus.” The letter shed light on investigative priorities for the FBI, including countering fraud schemes and cyber criminals like Khetani.
The agency is particularly concerned with hate crimes against Asian Americans after it become known that the coronavirus originated in China, and Missouri recently announced a lawsuit against the Chinese government. “The FBI assesses hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease…endangering Asian American communities,” according to the FBI intelligence report. “The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the US public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian American populations.”
Khetani’s fraud scheme demonstrates that these crimes will extend to other populations as well, including Italian Americans. Italy was hit especially hard by the virus and it is unclear whether this is connected with his vendetta and crime against pizza restaurants.