Owners James Gersten and Derek Sanders, fronted by their partners in crime Serge Becker and Cordell Lochin, fine purveyors of…
Rape, Threats of Rape, Lit Cigarettes in the Face, Customers Dragged Up Flights of Steps, Assault, Battery, Menacing
Just a typical night at La Esquina and other East Village establishments owned by these so-called men. This can’t be true, you think. If this were true, New York’s finest would arrest them. Nope, it’s well-documented by our own experiences with officers Wong and Gitten, and by an assaulted Latino reporter (see below), and by this damning New York Times expose about officers being ordered to stand down and not arrest people on behalf of certain wealthy citizens. If you’re a wealthy business owner in Manhattan you can get away with pretty much anything.
A handful of sincere politicians and officers have tried to combat this culture of violence by ordering raids and temporary closings but it’s not enough. For scum like Gersten, Sanders, their business partners and unlicensed (and therefore illegal) bouncers it’s business as usual.
On Saturday night 10/7/06 around midnight here’s what happened to my fiancee and me (we are an interracial couple; I am a published playwright and university faculty; she's a biologist) at La Esquina after being out on a date and stopping in here for a quick bite before heading home. It was the first time for both of us in this restaurant.
First, a man whom we now know from casting director friends as washed up actor and failed standup comedian Dominic Chianese, Jr. (estranged son of Sopranos actor Dominic Chianese) personally laid hands on and assaulted my girlfriend–-
--while he ordered his two African-American coworkers (also unlicensed and illegal bouncers like Dom) to assault me, throwing me to the floor and dragging me up the stairs. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long-sleeved pullover sweater at the time but that didn’t stop this from happening to my right arm:
Our crime? Walking into La Esquina. Period. Unlicensed, illegal bouncer Dominic Chianese, Jr., who according to a posting on his message board at imdb.com has a prison record and is known for bar fights (great guy to have as your unlicensed security guard, Gersten and Sanders) made the aforementioned threat after we had already been assaulted and dragged outside.
I took out my camera and began snapping pictures of him and one of the other unlicensed bouncers who had assaulted me before they could hide inside as one of them had already done, and Chianese charged out of the doorway onto the public sidewalk and slapped me several times, knocking my camera from my hands and damaging it.
The bouncer who had run inside then stepped out of the doorway (the slim bitch with dreds; Cordell Lochin wannabe?) onto the sidewalk and flicked a lit cigarette into our faces, then sneered, “That was an accident,” before darting back inside to hide like a coward.
All three of these so-called “men” are James Gersten and Derek Sanders’ wonderful employees and it turns out this was not an isolated incident. See how much they love the neighborhood? We appreciate the positive coverage by animalnewyork.com, gothamist.com, gawker.com and pxthis.com because it’s helping to alert the public about these jackasses (and Chianese, Jr.’s alleged and much blogged about on-the-job drug habit). We also appreciate the letter we got from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. To clarify gothamist.com’s story, we were not trying to sneak a camera inside to get “secret photos” of their juvenile “secret room.” We thought it was a Mexican restaurant, not a Masonic lodge. Plenty of people were coming in and out the door to the bar so it wasn’t much of a secret. The guy at the cash register even told us inside that there was a bar downstairs. Yep, we asked him before we went downstairs. He said “Yes, it’s right over there,” and pointed at the door. I didn’t take out a camera and start snapping until after I had been dragged up the steps and was out on the sidewalk.
As for Chianese, Jr.’s threat
made to us in front of multiple witnesses that “in the old days
you would be dead,” we can only assume he meant the good old
days before an illegal
bouncer just like him, and just blocks away at The
Falls, did rape and murder a nonwhite female customer
earlier this same year and the city passed
the Bouncer Control Act.* You are so cool,
Dom, for threatening to do this to my girlfriend and me. So very
cool. Can you imagine that this fake punk rocker is now a father?)
I asked one of the two
bouncers, the really cool one with the shiny bald peckerhead
dome (copying Dominic apparently; the Mussolini look is in at La
Esquina), as they dragged me up a
flight of steps by my wrists, if he was a licensed*
bouncer, and he said, “Yeah I’m licensed, asshole.”
No surprise, he refused to provide his name or license, even to
NYPD Officers Wong and Gitten who sided with him.
These so-called men, Gersten and Sanders’ supposed “security staff,” then had the nerve to ask if we were “on something” for sticking around to photograph them from the sidewalk. You know, because they control the public sidewalk, too. Guess again.
I replied, “Well, who’s committed assault and battery? Who’s resorted to threats of rape and more assault? Who’s throwing lit cigarettes into their own customers’ faces and then darting back inside to hide? Who’s smacking people around? Who’s running out onto the public sidewalk breaking people’s cameras? Who’s hurling profanities? You. You are.”
And they probably think of themselves as Becker’s fake Obama liberals even though they’re working happily as professional lawn jockeys for him, Gersten and Sanders, posing as racial stereotypes just like their buddy Cordell Lochin, so all the rich white folks downstairs can have a good time. Remember: no interracial couples allowed. This is who these proud black men are protecting.
And as it turns out they are the ones likely to be “on something” while at work given that they likely had a steady supplier in crackhead Dom and in-house international drug smuggler Cordell Lochin. Speaking of Lochin, we now know from all of his recent news photos from his drug trial that he was also on the scene during our assault. And what did this proud African-American do to stop the assault? Nothing. Read on…
After breaking my camera, Chianese, Jr. had the nerve to threaten to call the police to report our crime of standing on the public sidewalk and photographing our assailants, so we implored him to do so. I was about to do so myself when a middle-aged Latino kitchen worker stepped out, identified himself as “the owner,” and said to us, “If you don’t stop taking pictures I’m going to have to call the police.” I then took out my own phone to call 911 but they beat me to the punch.
Lochin stood in the crowd and accosted my sobbing
girlfriend, asking her, “Why are you doing this? Is
this what you people like to do on a
Friday night, go and bother people where you’re not wanted?”
What an appalling embarrassment of a man is this Cordell Lochin.
Where we’re not wanted? It’s a public restaurant, not a
private club, and we asked before trying to get down to the
bar. This poor excuse for a man was actually upset
that two victimized, racially mixed customers were ruining the
evening for his staff. My girlfriend asked Lochin,
“How can you stand there and say that? You’re a minority, too.
What’s wrong with you?” He looked stumped and stared at the
sidewalk, then walked away in silence. Unbelievable. This all
occurred in front of multiple witnesses, by the way. Yes, this
violence-loving, negligent man-child hid in the crowd and let an
aging Latino kitchen worker step up and pretend to be the owner
so he could dodge taking responsibility and disappear into the
Ironically, this Thai kick
boxing drug smuggler was depicted in an Observer article
as a generous lover of humanity who helps the downtrodden
[except for weeping Asian women and their beaten-up white
friends]. One Observer posting about this
desperate coward (now conveniently deleted) alleged that he once
offered a couple dining at La Esquina $300 to let him have sex
with them (they declined). We’re surprised he didn’t just ask
Dominic to help him rape the couple. Words cannot describe this
unspeakable piece of garbage and his cohorts.
Imagine his shock when later during his drug trial he'd learn that he too had been duped by Becker, Sanders and Gersten into thinking he was actually a co-owner of La Esquina, as though they'd ever treat a black man as their equal. For us it was poetic justice. As Malcolm X would have said, the chickens have come home to roost. It’s clear from the many supportive emails we’ve received and the postings elsewhere on the Internet that we’re not the only victims of Cordell Lochin and his partners. This place has a pattern of assault and battery. We urge you to do your own homework.
New York’s finest soon arrived, Officers Wong and Gitten. No flashing lights, no siren, and from the outset they were condescending to my girlfriend and me, and before anyone had said a word of explanation to them they went straight to Dominic and the bouncers to hear their side of the story. In front of multiple witnesses on the sidewalk we volunteered to Officer Wong to take breathalyzer or any other sobriety tests but he declined, seeing that we were clearly not intoxicated and not posing a threat to anyone.
But they also refused to take our names. They refused to take the names of Dominic (we found out who he was later from New York casting director friends) or our other two attackers, and refused to assist us in filing criminal charges. They wanted no record that the incident had ever happened. They refused to take a complaint from us or let us fill out a report. Why? Who would that benefit? Clearly it benefits the owners. They even refused to check to see whether these men were licensed* bouncers as the law requires, or whether they carried any ID at all. Later their actions would make sense to us after the publication of this scathing New York Times expose.
Most disgusting, Officers Wong and Gitten kept insisting to us that the physical attacks and threats we described were “not an assault.” That’s a direct quote from Officer Wong. Laughable. The cartoon went like this:
Me: “They threw me down
and dragged me up a flight of steps.”
Officer Wong: “That’s not an assault.”
Me: “They threw a lit cigarette in my face.”
Officer Wong: “That’s not an assault.”
Me: “They threatened to rape and murder my girlfriend.”
Officer Wong: “That’s not an assault.”
Officer Wong then told us, "It's a civil case if you want to pursue it.” We told him and Officer Gitten that we did want to pursue it and asked for their assistance in filling out a report and getting names and they literally turned their backs on us, Officer Wong saying, “Okay fine, you’ve taken your pictures, now go.”
Go from a public sidewalk? Not wanting to point out my obvious Constitutional rights to this poor excuse for a police officer, we obeyed him, taking a few more pictures of our attackers and then walking away. If they took a statement from Chianese, Jr., pretend "owner" Cordell Lochin and the other two unlicensed bouncers it was after we after they had gotten rid of us.
We immediately filed complaints against Officers Wong and Gitten with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. They forwarded our complaint to NYPD’s complaint division and we received a letter in summer ’07 that it was being investigated by a Lieutenant Olinto at the 5th precinct. (Perhaps this was related in some small way to their decision to raid and temporarily close the joint a few months later. We hope so.)
In the meantime,
however, Lt. Olinto during his so-called
“investigation” refused to return a single one of our phone
calls. We called Lt. Olinto and left messages three times, then
resorted to mailing him two letters just trying to find out the
status of the investigation, all of which went unanswered, so we
finally gave up. Olinto's investigation was complete
hogwash. So much for the CCRB and for NYPD.
We tried reaching out
personally to Serge Becker via Joe’s Pub which he also co-owns
and we received no reply. We also went to a lawyer at a
major law firm who agreed to work with us pro bono because he found
the case so distressing. He sent certified letters to Becker,
Gersten and Sanders and receive no reply from any of them.
They were flat-out dodging us and hoping we would go away.
Alas, we have no other option but to go public and lay all this bare for the world to see. This started as a small posting on my personal website the morning after our attack, then got so much traffic we moved it to its own domain to keep calling out these people who continue to do business in New York's restaurant and club scene. Cordell Lochin's now out of the slammer so we'll see where he lands. Were we seething mad? You bet we were. Wouldn’t you be? Of course you would. Some of you too-cool partiers will doubtless find this all amusing — until it happens to you or someone you know. This is not about pouting over the fact that we weren’t allowed into a silly bar with a door policy. We weren’t even sure we wanted to be there to begin with, and we didn’t know it was a ludicrous “secret bar.” We stumbled upon it and had a quick burrito. There was no velvet rope. We did not push past anyone to walk inside. We had already been welcomed into the establishment and informed by a friendly employee that there was a bar downstairs. We finished our meal, opened a door (that plenty of other customers were also coming and going through unescorted) and walked down a flight of steps. Period. We would have been gone in a few minutes. This is about unlicensed security guards committing assault, battery and menacing on you and your neighbors with impunity while the owners and NYPD join forces in ignoring it.
We urge you to boycott their
establishments. They’re run by violent, twisted,
self-important fools who have turned downtown Manhattan, and now
Williamsburg, into an
elitist playground that regularly takes a dump on New York's
citizens. Sanders, Gersten, Becker and their staff do not
care about you and they do not care about the neighborhood. Do
what you want but remember there are tons of cool people and
tons of cool places, even ones with a velvet rope, to go to
downtown. La Esquina isn’t one of them. Give someone else your
money, someone who’s actually glad you came and who actually
likes their neighbors.
Chianese, Jr. also got a couple
of doses of poetic justice. Ironically he was allegedly nearly
killed during an assault while allegedly
trying to score drugs in Florida a year-and-a-half after our
night at La Esquina. Then, we have it on very good authority
from an eyewitness a year later that during a beer commercial
audition in New York, in which he was being considered for the
role of a barroom bully, his scene partner refused to work with
him, calmly telling him, "I can't work with you. You assaulted
Jeffrey Stanley." Chianese, Jr. responded by storming out
of the blown audition while shouting, "Fuck you!" over and over
again all the way down the hall and out of the building.
Will the Real Owner
Please Stand Up?
First there was the kitchen worker who pretended to be the owner in hopes we’d stop taking pictures. Then there was "co-owner" Cordell Lochin trying to hide amongst the crowd on the sidewalk while berating my victimized girlfriend. Then there’s Serge Becker named in multiple articles as Lochin’s "co-owner" of La Esquina but this would also turn out to be a lie. Here’s the real story: La Esquina is owned by James Gersten and Derek Sanders. They allowed club king Serge Becker to pretend to be the owner in order to cover themselves and garner favorable press from the downtown glitterati. Becker tried to further enhance the club's trendy image to white celebrities and affluent white yuppies by duping dredlocked, young black club kid Lochin into believing that he too was a co-owner. The press loved him. Lochin got a rude awakening during his federal drug smuggling trial when he learned that he wasn’t a co-owner but merely a “social connector” for La Esquina, as Becker described him i court documents. This funhouse of fake owners continued duping the press until 2010 when Gersten and Sanders finally issued a public statement trying to cover their asses and start anew. Multiple layers of deception are the norm for these guys, so anyone thinking of going into business with Gersten, Sanders or Becker should thing twice. Full story here.
Legal Tips For Other Victims
The legal definition of assault is, “A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact [although there was plenty of physical contact in our case] is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person [you know, like a lit cigarette in the face] can constitute an assault.”
The legal definition of battery is, “A crime consisting of physical contact that is intended to harm someone.” We were battered that evening.
The legal definition of third degree physical menacing in New York State is “intentionally placing or attempting to place another person in fear of death, imminent serious physical injury or physical injury.” They are guilty.
* In August ’06, two months before we were attacked by La Esquina’s staff, the New York City Council introduced the “Bouncer Bill” (now the law) to illegalize the hiring of a bouncer who lacks a state-issued security guard license verifying that he has undergone a background check and has no criminal record. This was already illegal but only the understaffed State Liquor Authority had the power to enforce it. A month after our assault, in November ’06, the new law went into effect allowing the city, not just the State Liquor Authority, to shut down establishments that hire bouncers who have not undergone required background checks. Violations can be reported to NYPD, the Department of Consumer Affairs or the Department of Buildings. Clubs are also required now to keep a log of which bouncers are on duty each night. Want to find out whether a bouncer is a licensed security guard like the law requires? Go here.
For updates on this group of human scum right
up through the present day please see postings
Reach out and touch "hospitality entrepreneur"
Cordell Lochin through his Twitter account.
When the first version of this page went public
in 2006 we provided a link to La Esquina co-owner Derek
Sanders' architecture design website and his public email
address therein, but he promptly took both down. Now you can
only reach out and touch him through his linkedin
You can reach out and touch chameleon Serge
Becker by emailing
his publicist Nadine Johnson.