SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Several restaurant owners are upset over a man who they believe is repeatedly scamming small businesses in San Francisco’s Richmond district. 2 Investigates tracked down the man they're pointing the finger at, but he says they've got the wrong guy.
“It’s sleazy,” Schubert’s Bakery owner Valerie Wenzel says, “trying to get money from people.”
And she's not the only business owner who said the man had a similar story, demanding a cash refund for a previous purchase. But they say, the details didn't quite add up.
“He wanted money,” said Sarah Bacon, owner of Nourish Cafe. “He wanted cash. He wanted money right out of our register.”
It all began, she says, when a man came into her café and asked for a refund on several salads that he had previously ordered. He claimed that they were dry and even contained hair.
“The items that he said he had a problem with added up to $50,” Bacon said. “He wanted that cash in his hands right then and he was not leaving until he got his refund.”
Bacon’s employees had him call her at home. The phone call, she says, was very confusing.
“The story changed, which items he ordered changed, the reason why he wanted a refund changed,” she said. “I could just tell something wasn’t right.”
Bacon then emailed his image to other businesses. Several other owners and managers, she learned, had experienced the same things.
“I knew right away this was something he was doing repeatedly and other merchants had been part of the scam,” Bacon said.
Bacon called police and filed a report claiming fraud. She also listed seven other small businesses that she says had all claimed the same thing.
She then posted her surveillance video of that man online. She called him a “Serial Refund Scammer” using the name “Ali.” She got several responses, but no one was able to help her identify him or giver her his real name.
Those comments, however, helped lead 2 Investigates to a man who lived near her business, named Oualid Soumbati. “Oualid” sounds similar to “Ali,” but he said the similarity ended there.
Soumbati denied being the same man in a photo of the scammer who tried to rip off the Nourish Café, captured on surveillance video.
“No, that’s not me,” Soumbati said.
Giorgio’s Pizza, another business that had also claimed the serial scammer took them for money and free pizza, provided 2 Investigates with the address of exactly where they had one delivered a pizza during that scam. They said that they delivered it to someone names “Wally Sou” at a specific address on 26th avenue.
It was the very same address that 2 Investigates found Oualid Soumbati coming out of on several occasions.
Soumbati admitted to once going to the Nourish Cafe, but denied visiting the other businesses.
“No, never,” Soumbati said.
But when KTVU showed video of Soumbati to the woman who had once helped him at Nourish café she did, in fact, identify him as the same man caught on camera allegedly trying to scam the restaurant. Her boss, Sarah Bacon, also says he sounds like the same man.
“That’s definitely him,” Bacon said. “You found the refund scammer.”
In fact, employees from Pretty Please Bake shop, Heartbaker, and Shubert’s Bakery also identified him from 2 Investigates’ video as the same man in the surveillance video.
“Yes, he came and got two refunds,” Wenzel said. “I mean, it’s just so obvious.”
Soumbati told 2 Investigates that the man in the video wasn't him, but Wendel wasn't convinced.
“Never been to those restaurants,” Soumbati said.
San Francisco Police, though, did confirm that Soumbati was a suspect in the case.
“It’s definitely a crime to try to defraud someone by saying you placed an order and trying to get free money from an innocent business when you never ordered anything in the first place,” Officer Grace Gatpandan said.
Even though Nourish Cafe didn't give the man in the video any money, Gatpandan said “it’s still a crime because you’re trying to defraud someone to get money.”
SFPD, though, finally closed the case without arresting anyone citing lack of cooperation from witnesses, lack of cooperation from Soumbati, and lack of evidence.
“Would I love to see the police put a little more pressure? Absolutely,” said Bacon.
“I’ve seen the story myself, and I think it’s bull----.” Soumbati said, contradicting his earlier statement to 2 Investigates when asked about the case. “Yeah, I’ve seen the story. I got a good laugh out of it, honestly, because honestly it’s bull----.”
“I think that is kinda funny,” Soumbati said.
For small businesses, though, it is a large and serious crime, they say.
“It’s a big deal,” Wenzel said, “because it hurts.”
“It’s… It’s… upsetting,” owner Esa Yann-Brown from Butter Love Bake Shop said. “It’s insulting to prey on people who are really working hard.”
Soumbati’s attorney also contacted 2 Investigates and later said that it was his client in the Nourish Café video, but stressed that his client’s return was legitimate. Attorney Joe Salama also says that Soumbati never tried to return anything to any of the other restaurants.