Originally published July 9, 2013.
Years after a largely unexplained closing shuttered the popular Wyckoff restaurant, Brownstone owner Aziz Kastrati faces a sentencing in federal court next week for structuring bank deposits to avoid currency reporting requirements, court documents show.
The Brownstone closed unexpectedly in May of 2011, and signs on the restaurant’s back door and windows still indicate that the inactivity is due to a “vacation.”
“Everything seemed normal,” remembered Lisa Hertz, a longtime waitress and bartender who started at the restaurant a year before Kastrati took over. On a Friday afternoon that May, she got a call not to come into work for her evening shift, and the restaurant was indefinitely closed by the following Monday due to “family issues,” she was told.
According to federal authorities, for almost four years before the closing, between Jan. 2006 and Dec. 2009, Kastrati flew under the radar of the IRS, depositing earnings of over $655,000 at multiple banks in amounts under $10,000 to avoid government reporting requirements.
Kastrati entered a guilty plea to the felony charge on April 25, according to court records, agreeing to forfeit over $200,000 to the U.S. Treasury. He also forfeited his passport and was released on $250,000 bail pending a sentencing hearing in Newark Federal Court.
The criminal charge against Kastrati was surprising, said Hertz, who learned of the charges through news reports but remembered her longtime boss, with whom she has had no contact since the restaurant closed, as a “by-the-books type of person.”
“I was kind of shocked. I worked for Aziz for 14 years, and that was the last thing I would have thought of,” she said, adding that nothing she observed in her employment at the restaurant indicated a financial need for the evasive accounting.
“The restaurant was slow because of the economy, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Hertz continued. “In the last few weeks it was starting to pick up again.”
The fate of the restaurant, which still stands inactive at the intersection of Wyckoff and Franklin Avenues, remains unclear. Its liquor license appeared before the Wyckoff Township Committee for a routine annual renewal at a meeting last month, but was listed as inactive pending review by the state.
Calls to Pastafino Restaurant in Allendale, also owned by Kastrati but closed in 2011, went unanswered Monday.
According to court records, Kastrati previously forfeited $454,555 in a 2009 civil tax settlement.
The plea agreement signed by Kastrati in April guarantees only that federal prosecutors will not pursue additional—unspecified—charges against the restaurateur, and promises no leniency in the sentence to be imposed upon him, which could reach a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and additional fines of up to $500,000.Kastrati is scheduled for sentencing in Newark Federal Court July 17.
Editor's note: Kastrati's sentencing was postponed to Sept. 4, according to the Newark Federal Court clerk's office.