san francisco chef sued in culinary school scam

This week in San Francisco, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against Angelo Mueller Degenhardt, aka "Chef Angelo Mueller," a one-time convicted con artist whose latest scam bilked dozens of Chinese immigrant students of as much as $3,600 each in tuition payments.

Recruited from San Francisco's Chinese immigrant community, students enrolled in the so-called "Academie de Cuisine" were promised formal culinary training and paid externships, students. In reality, they didn't receive a damn thing, and were instead exploited for free labor.

The lawsuit against Mueller seeks injunctive relief to halt the academy's operation as well as civil penalties up to $2,500 for each violation; disgorgement of all profits; and full payment of all withheld wages to workers together with liquidated damages owed under San Francisco's Minimum Wage Ordinance. From the city attorney's press release:
Herrera’s lawsuit details additional aspects of the scheme that include making false assurances to San Francisco non-profits to gain their assistance to do outreach to the Chinese immigrant community; luring certified cooking instructors to the school under fraudulent pretenses to lend credibility to the enterprise; and deliberately failing to fulfill promises made to students about paid externships and job placements.

In summer of 2010, Academie de Cuisine approached Chinatown non-profit organization Chinese Newcomers Service Center, or CNSC, with a proposed partnership to ostensibly help the Chinese immigrant community with job training and culinary arts skills. CNSC was to recruit and teach vocational English to students, while Academie de Cuisine taught cooking. Students, often monolingual Chinese and Cantonese-speaking immigrants, paid between $2,000 to $3,600 for the promise of a three-months formal teaching program and an additional three-month paid externship in one of ADC’s culinary venues.

But problems began to surface when students began to complain about such ADC business practices as: not following written curricula; requiring students to staff and manage ADC-sponsored functions without pay; demanding that students sign retroactive agreements stating that they understood they would not receive a Certificate of Completion unless they completed a 4-6 week unpaid externship and twenty-four hours of community service. Chef instructors also reported problems with the school's management when Mueller ordered instructors to fail all of the students, to prevent them from being able to claim their entitlement to paid externships.
All these folks getting mixed up with Mueller probably should have a little digging -- he apparently has an established history of engaging in fraudulent shenanigans. The fact that this scam specifically preyed on the Chinese immigrant community adds an extra layer of scum. More here: Chef made half-baked promises, allegedly tricked culinary students into free labor

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