A New Jersey man forced parking valets at Roosevelt Field mall to turn over part of their tips to him each week or face losing their jobs, authorities said.
John Benevento, 32, of East Rutherford, was arrested at the mall on Friday and charged with felony fourth-degree grand larceny, according to the Nassau County district attorney's office.
District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Benevento stole $23,541 over the past 13 months from valets serving the Capital Grille and Seasons 52 restaurants at the Garden City mall.
Benevento pleaded not guilty Saturday in Nassau County District Court in Mineola and was released on $20,000 bail.
Benevento faces 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison if convicted. He is due back in court Tuesday.
Benevento's attorney, Rovshan Sharifov of Hempstead, said his client denies any wrongdoing and is "waiting for his day back in court."
The mall restaurants contract with One Way Valet Inc., an Orlando, Fla.-based company for which Benevento works as a manager. The company did not return calls seeking comment.
The restaurants had no involvement in the scheme, according to Rice's office.
Benevento required valets to turn the money over to him when he made weekly visits to Long Island, according to Rice's office. Employees were told to place a certain amount of their tips in an envelope for each shift they worked.
Starting in January 2013, the envelopes were placed in a lock box and allegedly picked up by Benevento every Friday. More than 50 employees worked during that period, and because their tips are pooled, all are considered victims, authorities said.
Workers complained to Rice's office, sparking the investigation.
"Giving workers a choice between keeping their job and handing over their hard-earned tips is really no choice at all," Rice said in a statement. "Most of the valets in this case are attending local colleges and need the money to help pay expenses."