Ex-OpenTable worker charged with wire fraud in fake restaurant reservation scam

SHARE Ex-OpenTable worker charged with wire fraud in fake restaurant reservation scam

Patrons dine at Tavern At The Park. | Sun-Times file photo

He called himself “Hans Gruber” and “Jimmy Smits,” among other phony names, while making hundreds of fake online restaurant reservations, according to prosecutors.

The San Francisco tech company he worked for called him a “rogue” employee who took it upon himself to make the competition look bad.

Now, federal prosecutors say dozens of Chicago restaurant managers can call Steven Addison the culprit of a bogus booking scheme that left more than a thousand of their seats empty on normally busy nights, costing them thousands of dollars in lost sales.

Addison was charged Thursday in U.S. District Court with one count of wire fraud for the diner-deserting scam that was uncovered earlier this year.

While working as an enterprise operations specialist for the online reservation service OpenTable — identified only as Company A in a criminal complaint — the 30-year-old Chicagoan made fake reservations at restaurants in the city that were using a competing service called Reserve, according to prosecutors.

Between November 2017 and February of this year, Addison used fake names, email addresses and phone numbers to book tables through Reserve, often on busy nights and holidays like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day — all while knowing the restaurants “would suffer financial losses when no diners showed up to claim the reservation,” prosecutors said.

“Addison’s scheme intended to demonstrate to Chicago restaurants that Reserve had an inferior reservation system,” prosecutors said.

He allegedly made over 300 bogus reservations that wasted about 1,200 restaurant seats before Reserve engineers caught on to the scam, which affected at least 45 Chicago restaurants.

OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles issued a public apology in March for the “disgraceful, unsanctioned behavior” by a “rogue OpenTable employee,” noting that he was fired within 48 hours.

Prosecutors concurred that Addison “made the reservations on his own accord and did not personally profit from the scheme.”

Neither Quarles nor an OpenTable spokeswoman responded to messages seeking comment on the charge.

Peter de Castro, who estimated his Loop restaurant Tavern at the Park took a 5-percent hit in business last December as a result of Reserve no-shows, said he declined OpenTable’s offer to reimburse restaurants for lost revenue and gratuities.

“What incentive did this ‘rogue’ employee have?” de Castro said in March. “It just doesn’t make sense that this employee would do this out of spite.”

Reached Friday, de Castro didn’t have an immediate reaction to the federal charge against Addison, saying investigators never contacted him about the case.

Addison, who could not be reached for comment, is scheduled to appear for arraignment Tuesday morning before Judge Virginia Kendall.

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