A family that runs three Italian-themed bistros in Nashville used a secret recipe of sorts to bilk American Express out of more than $1 million, the credit-card company claims.
American Express Travel Related Services Company filed suit last Wednesday against Michael D. Tangredi, his son Michael G. Tangredi and their company M. Tangredi Restaurants Inc., as well as related parties.
The M. Tangredi firm lists four restaurants on its company Web site: Tangredi's Italian Kitchen on Elliston Place, T's Bar and Grill on Belcourt where The Trace and Faison's used to be, Michael T's on Division St., and Bada Bing!, a casual Italian restaurant in Maui, Hawaii.
Tangredi's Italian Kitchen opened in 2005, after the Tangredi family moved to Nashville from Birmingham, Ala., where they had been restaurateurs for some years. The other two Nashville establishments have opened in 2008. The City Paper's Alexa Hinton profiled the family earlier this year.
The lawsuit, filed in Nashville's federal court and available at this link, claims that the defendants used an employee's identity to open a cardholder account that they would control. Then, it says, they schemed to set up a merchant account for a fictitious business and ran bogus charges from that card through it.
All told, AmEx says the Tangredis took in $1.14 million over the course of just a few weeks before the credit card company tried, unsuccessfully, to reverse the charges.
The defendants opened the card account in the name of Laura Lightfoot, an employee of one of the Tangredi restaurants "who was duped by the Tangredis into having her name and credit information used so that a credit card could be issued to perpetrate their fraud," according to the complaint.
Supplemental cards on the Lightfoot account were issued in the name of Michael D. Tangredi, his wife Maria Tangredi and their 18-year-old son, Michael G. Tangredi. Last May, nearly $136,000 worth of "fictitious" charges were billed to the younger Tangredi's card on the Lightfoot account via the merchant account of M. Tangredi Restaurants Inc., the lawsuit states.
On June 8, according to the legal filing, AmEx opened a new merchant account for a nightclub called Minc. The business address given in the account application was the younger Tangredi's home address. The application gave the name of the account's authorized signer as "Michael Santaniello.”
AmEx says Santaniello is "a fictitious name used by Tangredi and/or Tangredi Jr. to perpetrate a fraud. The company notes that Maria Tangredi's maiden name is Santaniello.
Between June 9 and June 27, 12 charges averaging some $84,000 each went through the newly established account, all of them on Michael G. Tangredi's supplemental card on the Lightfoot account.
The card issuer tried to recover the money through chargebacks, but alleged in the lawsuit "the defendants withdrew the money from their accounts and secreted it."
Asserting that the Tangredis' "fraudulent credit card use violated various state and federal criminal statutes," and did so in a "willful, wanton, malicious, and intentional" manner, AmEx is seeking punitive damages in addition to the amounts in question. William T. Ramsey of Neal & Harwell is representing AmEx.
A review of filings in other courts reveals at least four default judgments entered against the Tangredi company or its principals since September 2007, for a total of more than $8,000. General Sessions Court records also show that the landlord of the Division St. property where Michael T's has just opened within the past six weeks took out a detainer warrant – normally a step preceding eviction – in early October.
Attempts over the weekend and on Monday to reach members of the Tangredi family for comment have been unsuccessful. NashvillePost.com will update this story with any response that may be forthcoming later today.