Additional reporting by Rachel Holliday Smith
A Brooklyn restaurant backed by a convicted-fraudster with long ties to Mayor Eric Adams was seized this week by the state for owing nearly $400,000 in taxes.
Officials from the state’s tax department took over Forno Rosso on Gold Street on Wednesday, placing bright-orange “SEIZED” stickers on the front door.
The Italian-style eatery — whose ribbon-cutting Adams attended — is partially financed by Robert Petrosyants, one of the twin brother restaurateurs who pleaded guilty in 2014 to participating in a money-laundering scheme. Adams has said considers the brothers among his closest friends and has said they deserve a second chance.
“Yes, I’m going to talk to people who have stumbled and fell,” the mayor once said when questioned about his friendship with the Petrosyants brothers.
Now, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance says the restaurant’s owners owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes on businesses across New York City, including $380,784.95 for Forno Rosso. A spokesperson for the agency said the liability periods for the debt were from 2018 through 2020.
The tax records list Akiva Ofshtein, a longtime lawyer for the Petrosyantses, as the debtor.
Ofshtein said in an email to THE CITY that he is the sole owner of Forno Rosso.
But Robert Petrosyants and Ofshtein were sued in October by the owners of 327 Gold St., where Forno Rosso is located. The lawsuit includes a lease, which Petrosyants signed, that runs through April 2022and lists him as a guarantor for the company leasing the premises, Prime Four Inc.
In his email, Ofshtein claimed “the lease misstates and is inaccurate as to Robert’s ownership” Petrosyants did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The landlords claim they’re owed more than $363,000 in rent — and say the restaurant has been stiffing them on payment since April 2020, even though they remained open throughout the pandemic, according to the suit.
Forno Rosso received $550,600 in federal Paycheck Protection Payment loans, records show, which the landlords allege in the suit Petrosyants’ business distributed to other restaurants, including their Midtown restaurant Osteria La Baia.
A spokesperson for the state’s tax department did not respond to an email and calls seeking comment.
In an email, Ofshtein said he is working with the state to pay back the taxes that are owed and said the landlord wouldn’t work with them to negotiate a fair settlement.
“Unfortunately, yesterday, 15 hard working New Yorkers lost their job,” he wrote. “COVID-19, and then omicron was a double whammy that Forno Rosso could not recover from.”
The 40-year-old twins, who live in Fort Lee, N.J., pleaded guilty in 2014 for roles in a medical billing check-cashing scheme that prosecutors said was designed to “evade anti-money laundering reporting requirements.”
Adams has appeared often with the pair since his earliest days as Brooklyn borough president. Besides attending the ribbon-cutting for Forno Rosso in 2014, he also hosted at least one fundraiser at another of their restaurants, the controversial Woodland, on Flatbush Avenue in 2018.
Adams recently defended their friendship, pointing to his time spent as a teen in a juvenile detention facility and saying their past convictions shouldn’t discredit them as people.
“I’m perfectly imperfect, and this is a city made up of perfectly imperfect people,” he told reporters at City Hall in February when asked about the brothers. “I don’t know if you know it, but I have a criminal history. I was arrested as a 15-year-old.”
He added, “You would be surprised at the types of people that I mentor to put them back on track.”
Adams frequently hangs out with Johnny Petrosyants at restaurants and Zero Bond, the members-only club in NoHo, according to POLITICO New York.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the mayor declined to comment on the tax issues. He described the mayor’s relationship with the Petrosyantses, particularly Johnny, as “one of friendship and mentorship and support.”
“It’s a personal relationship, and there is no business relationship, and has never been a business relationship,” the spokesperson, Max Young, said in a statement.
The mayor’s chief of staff, longtime Brooklyn Democratic Party lawyer Frank Carone, also represented the brothers when they had issues with their liquor license in 2019, after neighbors complained about noise at Woodland, according to court documents.
In a signed affidavit, a lawyer with the State Liquor Authority said that she felt threatened by Carone following a hearing in the case, alleging he shouted “f—ing liar” and “f–k you” repeatedly while she and others were in a waiting room.
Carone, via the mayor’s office, declined to comment on the affidavit.
Outside Forno Rosso on Wednesday night, locals stopped to gawk at the closed pizzeria, including a couple who lived next door and said they eat there three times a week.
“They seized that Italian place we ate at the other night!” a passerby said into his phone while walking a dog.
Tammy, who lives at a nearby housing complex and declined to give her last name, said it was a great spot to treat yourself.
“If you’re a mom and everything and you need a little break, it’s the best place to come,” she told THE CITY while walking by with her young son. “It’s just surprising. It was just open two, three days ago!”