TRENTON – The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) today announced a settlement with Brig Inc., trading as Laguna Grill and Martini Bar in Brigantine and owned by Brigantine town councilman Dominic A. “Tony” Pullella, for defrauding patrons by pouring a significant amount of cheaper-grade vodka and charging them for premium spirits from May to September.
As part of the settlement, Pullella’s restaurant will close for seven days during the summer and pay a $23,000 fine. The Brig was charged with serving an alcoholic beverage other than ordered, hindering an investigation by having an employee provide false information to an ABC investigator, and failing to produce complete and accurate copies of invoice slips. ABC licensees are strictly liable for any violations of the Division’s laws at their establishments.
“By serving its customers cheaper vodka than what had been ordered and paid for, the Laguna Grill and Martini Bar was dishonest,” Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Jerry Fischer said. “These charges and this investigation are a clear sign that the ABC intends to put an end to this kind of fraud.”
The investigation began on September 2 when ABC investigators questioned the bar’s manager, and Pullella’s sister, Prudenzia “Maria” Pullella, after receiving two separate anonymous tips the bar may be duping its customers. The investigators were shown to the Laguna’s inventory room, which yielded two tip-offs: a large red funnel and a cardboard sign on a liquor cabinet that read “Keep empties in order. Do not put them all over. Only save these vodka bottles. Do not throw any call to top shelf empties out.”
Inside the cabinet, ABC investigators found bottles of premium vodkas Three Olives, Ketel One and Stolichnaya with unsealed caps and filled to varying levels. The anonymous tips had alleged that Maria Pullella was pouring Burnett’s flavored vodka into Three Olives flavored vodka bottles and pouring Absolut vodka into Ketel One and Stolichnaya bottles. The investigators asked Maria Pullella if she had done that. She denied it.
After comparing the restaurant’s inventory records and bar receipts, the investigators determined the amount of Three Olives vodka being brought out of the inventory room did not match what was being ordered and had been delivered by distributors. Maria Pullella on two more occasions denied perpetrating the scam to investigators, but after seeking legal counsel, eventually signed a voluntary statement admitting to switching the various vodkas from August 17 to August 25. On September 9, ABC investigators made a follow-up visit to the restaurant and discovered discrepancies in records that suggested the fraud went back as far as May. After being presented with that evidence, Maria Pullella changed her statement, admitting the scam went back to May.
The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has a toll-free hotline for citizens to report illegal activity to ABC’s Investigative Unit. Anyone with information on illegal activity is encouraged to call 1-866-713-8392. All information received via the ABC hotline will remain confidential.
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