The bartender at a Salem Street restaurant was fired and could yet face criminal charges for putting his phone in a potted plant in the unisex restroom and then setting it to take video just as a woman patron was entering one night earlier this year.
An attorney for Rigoletto, 115A Salem St., acknowledged the incident was awful, but told the Boston Licensing Board this morning that the guy was planning a joke on a kitchen worker.
The woman who found herself on camera, though, took time off from work to urge the board to do what it could to make sure nobody else finds themselves in her situation. And she and two friends, who also attended, said they don't buy the joke explanation - they now wonder if there was something suspicious behind the way the bartender would always ply them with lots of water on their weekly after-work visits there.
According to police and the victim, she and two friends went to Rigoletto after work on Monday, March 19. The place was, as it usually is on Mondays, pretty empty - around 8 p.m., it was just the three women and a couple, all at the bar. The woman said that's one of the reasons they liked the place - it was usually pretty quiet.
The woman said that before they left, she went to use the restaurant's unisex, single-stall restroom. She said the bartender, whom she recognized, was in there as she entered, fiddling with a potted plant inside. He apologized, and left.
She said she closed the door and sat down on the toilet - and promptly realized there was a phone in the potted plant, facing and recording her. She said she got up, grabbed the phone and immediately deleted the video of her. "I didn't want that video to be on the Internet the next day," she testified.
She left, called one of her friends over and they grabbed the phone and immediately went up to the bartender and asked him if it were his phone. "No, that's not mine," she said he responded. "I've never seen that." The woman said it was obvious he was lying, but didn't say anything as the guy offered to try to find restaurant owner Nestor Patiño and the owner of the phone. While they were talking, the phone rang and she said somebody in the kitchen motioned to the bartender as if to indicate it was his phone.
She called 911. When the sirens approached, she said, the bartender fled down to the basement. Police say he then fled the restaurant altogether.
Patiño's attorney, Lee Rajsich, acknowledged what happened was "a disturbing incident, extremely abnormal" and said Patiño fired the bartender as soon as he learned what had happened.
Board Chairwoman Christine Pulgini asked him to explain the joke the guy was allegedly trying to play on another worker. "I dont know," Rajsich replied. "It was so irresponsible," and he couldn't fathom what the humor might have been. He said the the bartender was married and had been a good employee who had worked at Rigoletto since it opened in 2015.
Although Patiño is usually in the restaurant, he was not there that night, because he had to go across the river to the Cambridgeside Galleria to pick something up at the Apple store there, Rajsich said, offering to give the board Apple receipts to prove that.
Rajsich added Patiño held an all-staff meeting a few days later to re-emphasize he would not put up with such nonsense.
The victim added that the last time she talked to somebody at Boston Police, she got the feeling they were buying the prank argument, because the officer she spoke to said if she was looking for money, she should call the restaurant.
But she added, "It's not about money ... As minor as it is, it's an invasion of privacy." And, she continued, the fact that the restaurant was so empty at the time and "having no one to report this to, it was very, very alarming."
The board decides Thursday if Patiño could have foreseen and prevented the incident and, if so, what penalty, if any, to impose.