January 30, 2019

Third guilty plea in Worcester restaurant money-laundering scheme

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Meze Greek Tapas has high hopes for this space on Shrewsbury Street.

Joseph Herman, an associate of convicted drug dealer, money launderer and former Worcester restaurateur Kevin Perry, has pleaded guilty in federal court to using Perry's drug money to open a Shrewsbury Street restaurant.

A plea agreement was filed in Herman's case Wednesday, in which he admitted to lying to investigators about using a portion of Perry's money to reopen The Usual on Shrewsbury Street under a new name after Perry was indicted in 2016.

He faces possible prison time as well as three years of probation.

He was charged last year with conspiracy to commit money laundering, making false statements to investigators and attempted witness tampering.

Prosecutors allege Herman and Perry's wife Stacey Gala used more than $200,000 of Perry's money hidden in a Northborough storage locker to open the restaurant as The Chameleon in July 2017.

The indictment alleges Herman told the Worcester Licensing Commission at a July 2017 hearing he and certain relatives invested up to $40,000 to help reopen the restaurant as The Chameleon.

In August 2017, prosecutors told Herman they were investigating the proceeds of Perry's drug sales, but Herman lied, claiming that Gala gave him $100,000 to renovate the restaurant and used only $16,000.

Prosecutors allege much more than $16,000 was used to open and operate The Chameleon, and further, Herman coordinated the hiding of at least $330,000 of additional drug proceeds and personally spent more than $40,000.

Herman allegedly told Christopher Slavinskas, another Worcester restaurateur who knew about the origins on the money, to lie to investigators about retrieving Perry's money.

Slavinskas, who was listed as a manager at the Hangover Pub but was distant from the actual business, was charged last February with lying to investigators. He pleaded guilty last March and is due to be sentenced in May.

Slavinskas originally told federal investigators he helped Gala conceal $200,000 of the storage locker money and then returned all of it back to her about 30 days later. However, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Slavinskas actually hid about $330,000 and spent $130,000 on himself and others before returning $200,000 to Gala.

The crimes forced the closure of five restaurants, including the Blackstone Tap in the Canal District, which Perry owned.

Both Blackstone Tap and the Chameleon are reopening in 2019 under new concepts and new ownership.

The Hangover Pub and sister restaurant Broth also closed when the city forced the surrendering of the business and alcohol licenses when it was revealed that Slavinskas was not involved in the operation despite being listed as the sole manager. Both restaurants have since reopened under new leadership.

Perry also owned the Blackstone Tap and several other rental properties he purchased with proceeds from drug sales in Worcester and Millbury, but those have been seized in connection with the scheme.

Perry was sentenced in May to 14 years in prison for the scheme.

Gala's case is scheduled to begin trial in May.

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