For weeks, Reston Town Center’s Vapiano has suddenly and sporadically shuttered its doors amid allegations of an international money laundering scheme and attempts to disrupt operations of countrywide locations of the fast-casual restaurant chain.
In a May 27 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, Plutos Sama Holdings, Inc. (PSH), a Delaware-based corporation that bought shares of Vapiano’s parent company earlier this year, alleges that individuals seeking to take control over the chain attempted to jeopardize its legal acquisition and operation of three Vapiano locations in Florida and Reston.
A legal representative for PSH told Reston Now the Reston location expects to open in about a month as litigation continues. The Reston location closed last month due to what company officials called “major restructuring” and “operational changes.” The restaurant had on-and-off closures in March because of training and delays in the processing of paychecks.
The lawsuit, which was obtained by Reston Now, alleges that a group of individuals, including Jurg Widmer, worked together to launder money through a restaurant location in Doral, Florida. PSH says it has uncovered evidence indicating that restaurant was funded by an international money laundering scheme disguised as a trust to “mask the funds unlawful origins.” The complaint further alleges that Widmer, who is described in the document as “the King of Ports,” amassed his fortune through corrupt shipping transactions in Guatemala.
Widmer moved to Switzerland to escape allegations of being involved in an illicit bribery conspiracy, according to the document.
The suit also alleges that he worked with a friend to create a shell company, VAP Invest, LLC, and VAPvest Corp. to funnel and hide illicit proceeds in legitimate enterprises. Attempts were made to obtain a franchise license to operate the restaurant in Doral despite the franchisor’s refusal to grant “anyone associated with the Widmer family a franchise license.”
The complaint also claims Widmer and his partners launched a “smear campaign” designed to encourage restaurant employees to quit and refuse to cooperate with the company. The document states that Widmer’s representatives sent threats and intimidating notes that were so aggressive that they prevented the company from working with restaurant staff. In some cases, employees were encouraged to quit, strike or refuse to work with the company as the new manager of the business.
Payments to the restaurants and its employees were also interrupted as part of this effort, according to the complaint. In one instance, the complaint alleges one of Widmer’s partners removed a manager from the Reston restaurant without notice, leaving a “management vacuum” at the eatery.
Employees at the Reston location reported missed and delayed paychecks in previous weeks.
The company is seeking damages and demanding a jury trial. The 35-page complaint is below.