San francisco restaurants

San Francisco restaurants on high alert for extortion operation

San Francisco is a notoriously tough city for restaurants, with rising costs, staff shortages and fierce competition.

Add extortion to the list of challenges.

On Thursday, District Attorney George Gascón issued a public warning about an email extortion operation directed at restaurants in San Francisco. Several local chefs said the perpetrators threatened to spread negative information about their restaurants unless they were paid.

Serpentine in the Dogpatch neighborhood received an email from someone calling themselves “public relations officer”. The email, with the subject line “Reputation”, said the sender, who went by the name Natasha Nixon, had been hired by one of Serpentine’s competitors to share negative information, such as ” horrible pictures of food with hair and bugs in it.”

“I don’t want to damage the reputation of your restaurant, so I’m suggesting you make a deal,” the email reads. “I will refuse to execute this order if you compensate me for the amount that I will lose in the event of non-execution of the order.”

The letter went on to say that if Serpentine leader Tom Halvorson paid the requested amount, she would name the contestant “so that you can report him to the police”.

Halvorson, who had two days to respond, notified law enforcement.

An owl statue sits outside the window of the Nightbird restaurant in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, March 30, 2018.Michael Short / Special for The Chronicle 2018

Kim Alter of Hayes Valley’s Nightbird restaurant posted a photo of a similar letter on Instagram last week, threatening to share a negative press release with “300 major media and outlets such as Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC.”

Gascón called the extortion attempts “flagrant” and said local restaurants and business owners can prevent similar operations by identifying them “before they even happen.”

Cyber ​​extortion is a felony in California, punishable by two to four years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, according to the California penal code.

Justin Phillips is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jphillips@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @JustMrPhillips

Diners enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at the Serpentine Restaurant in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, September 24, 2011.
Diners enjoy pre-dinner cocktails at the Serpentine Restaurant in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, September 24, 2011.John Storey / Special at the Chronicle 2011