Uncle Sam's owner appears in court, released on own recognizance

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
Bret Frimmel By Mike Gertzman Bret Frimmel By Mike Gertzman
Lisa Norton By Mike Gertzman Lisa Norton By Mike Gertzman

Phoenix -- A Valley restaurant owner arrested this week for identity theft made his initial appearance in court Thursday.

Bret Frimmel, 40, was arrested Wednesday on four counts of trafficking the identity of another, four counts of identity theft and two counts of forgery. After his court appearance in Phoenix Thursday, he was released on his own recognizance.

The investigation into Frimmel's Uncle Sam's restaurants began in October 2012 after the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office received a tip from a caller about the hiring of several people using false identification documents to gain employment.

Ten people were arrested on felony charges related to identity theft and forgery after MCSO conducted a workplace ID theft operation at two restaurant locations in July.

"He was knowingly hiring employees with fake Social Security numbers," said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "We even have witnesses in the restaurants that he made comments that he likes hiring illegal immigrants because they work hard and he can pay them less money."

Police reports state that "both current and past employees stated Bret knowingly hired employees that were using forged identities."

Frimmel reportedly acknowledged to police that he personally entered all the employees' Social Security numbers into his ADP payroll program from his laptop, which was kept at his Scottsdale residence. Police say they "requested and received records from ADP payroll showing several employees using forged social security numbers."

According to police documents, Frimmel also entered four fictitious or forged Social Security numbers from four of the nine employees arrested and transmitted them to the ADP program. Police say that five of the nine arrested came forward with information that the owner "knowingly committed forgery or identity theft and or conspiracy to commit forgery and identity theft."

Police reports state: "The information provided by the 4 ex-employees was that Bret had made comments to employees to bring in undocumented friends because they work the most, and he could pay them the least. Bret also made comments that he didn't care about their status and would yell at staff, calling them illegals."

Also stated in the police report: "Witnesses also said Bret was present during their hiring process and he hired them without having to provide a valid identification or social security number. Another employee who worked for Bret approximately 15 years said Bret told him to forge the hiring date on another employee W-4 to say that he was hired in 2007, and not his actual hire date of 2010. This information was also confirmed through ADP payroll records that the employee was hired in 2010."

Police also say that some Uncle Sam's employees told investigators that after 2009, they were unable to obtain a valid food handlers card because they did not have valid identification. After employees told Frimmel they could not get a food handlers card, police say that Frimmel allegedly told the employees not to worry about their food handlers card and to keep working.

According to police, some of these employees reportedly continued working for Frimmel for almost four years with an expired food handlers card. This information was validated after investigators requested and received food handler documents from Maricopa County Environmental Services.

The police reports also states: "An ex-employee heard Bret talking to his general manager, Lisa Norton, about having to go and purchase numbers before the new employee started working in the kitchen. Employees advised that they signed and dated blank applications and tax forms and Social Security numbers were later provided and written in by the business."

Police conducted an interview with Frimmel after his Miranda rights were read to him. During that interview, according to police, he "voluntary admitted that the employees applications they fill out is irrelevant and most of them don't even put Social Security number on their applications until the date of hire."

Frimmel is due back in court Feb. 6 for a status conference. His preliminary hearing is set for Feb 12.