A man called more than a dozen pizzerias and restaurants in Middlesex, Somerset, and Mercer counties and placed large food orders over the past month, saying each time that he would pick up the order or that it was meant for police officers.
The orders were never picked up. Pizzeria and restaurant managers would then call the phone number the orders were placed from, and the man who answered the phone would then would make racist statements about Italians and say he wished they would be afflicted with the coronavirus.
Police in South Brunswick said several thousand dollars have been lost by pizzerias in three counties because of the harassment and fraud.
In South Brunswick, Vinny’s Kendall Park Pizzeria, the Capriccio Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant, the Pizza Delizia Restaurant, the Giuseppe Pizzeria and Restaurant, and Pierre’s Deli were targeted. Pizzerias and restaurants in Montgomery, Plainsboro and West Windsor were also victimized.
Officials said they are incensed by the fraud and harassment, especially given the difficult economy for small businesses during the pandemic. In some communities, pizzerias are the cornerstone of food delivery during the stay-at-home order in the state. Many of the impacted pizzerias have either donated food or received calls from residents willing to pay for food to be donated to area hospitals or first responders to thank them for all they are doing.
“It is incomprehensible that a suspect would play on the goodwill of so many during these difficult times,” South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka said. “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 am not sure there is an adequate charge for what he is doing.”
The suspect, Sudeep Khetani, 34, used a voice override service to mask his real phone number, but South Brunswick Detective Tim Hoover and Middlesex County Prosecutors Office Detective Ryan Tighe were able to track his true identity. They believe Khetani is currently in the Orlando area. Detectives are working with Florida authorities, where Khetani is on probation for selling fake Disney World tickets.
Khetani is being charged with theft. An investigation is being conducted to determine if the crimes meet criteria for bias crimes. Khetani possibly could also be charged with cyber harassment, police said.
The owners of Vinny’s in Kendall Park say they have been repeatedly harassed by the suspect. “He calls at the busiest of times so we are taking extra precautions with all phone orders as we navigate through this unique COVID-19 situation, compounded by continued harassment,” the owner said, thanking all his customers for their patience and understanding.