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Dining Patron Refuses to Leave Mandatory Tip Due to Poor Food, Service;
Restaurateur Calls the Cops and Patron Charged with Theft of Service
By Dave Goldiner, Daily News, New York
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 15, 2004 - Humberto Taveras says he's no criminal, just an unhappy customer -- and a prosecutor agrees.

The Queens man who was busted when he balked at leaving a "mandatory" tip at an upstate Italian restaurant was cleared of all charges yesterday.

"I'm glad someone came to their senses up there," said Taveras, 41, who had faced up to a year in jail. "Now I can tell my kids 'Daddy's not a crook.' "

Prosecutors tossed the charges after determining that restaurants don't have the legal right to require diners to pay an 18 percent tip for a large party.

"I'm happy to have it behind me, but the whole situation shouldn't have happened to begin with," Taveras added.

The tempest over a tip started when Taveras took some buddies out to dinner at Soprano's Italian and American Grill in Lake George on Sept. 5.

He says he left a gratuity that was less than 10 percent of the tab because he wasn't totally satisfied with the meal and service.

But restaurateur Joe Soprano called the cops and Taveras was hit with misdemeanor theft of services charge for refusing to cough up the extra cash.

Soprano said he wasn't after the money, but pursued charges because Taveras' group was obnoxious.

He also wanted to stand up for his waitresses, who make a big chunk of their income from tips.

"We did what we thought was right," Soprano said after hearing of the decision.

With news wire services reporting.

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