Eddie Santana Makes Six Figures by Suing Restaurants From the Inside

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Adrian Scalia, an Argentine manager at Graziano's, says he knew Santana was trouble. "When I fired him, he freaked out and called the police. He lied and told them I touched him. The police told me to pay him that night, so I paid him." Santana signed a document promising not to sue and walked off with $514.

"He's pretty much a con artist," claims Arturo Zuzunaga, a baby-faced manager at Tony Roma's in South Miami. According to him, Santana ate dinner at the restaurant only to hand a coupon for the meal to a busboy instead of his server. When the waiter saw him leaving, he thought he was running out on the bill. He rushed after him and put his hand on Santana's shoulder to stop him.

"He kept yelling, 'Stop harassing me.' Now he's saying the waiter dislocated his shoulder. Are you kidding me?" Zuzunaga scoffs. "He just wants money to shut up."

In a letter to Santana's lawyer, attorneys for Brimstone Woodfire Grill in Pembroke Pines — a defendant in another suit — went further still. "The fact that Santana has engaged in a pattern of making claims against a number of restaurants where he has been briefly employed makes it clear that he is engaged in an ongoing scheme to use litigation as a means of extorting money from employers," the letter said.

And in a recent motion to dismiss Santana's suit, lawyers for Ruth's Chris wrote that Santana "treated litigation against [the company] as a sport."

Santana's fellow waiters support him — at least to a point.

"I got to give it to him: It takes balls to do what he's doing," Ruiz says. "Restaurants take advantage of their employees day in and day out, so it's good that he's fucking them back. I guess it's open season on them."

But even Ruiz thinks Santana has now gone too far. "Eddie is on a rampage with these lawsuits; he's on a mission," he says. "I can't believe he's doing this sometimes. But then again, maybe he's doing a public service by putting all these restaurants in check." Other waiters are less charitable.

"Personally, I think he's fucking nuts," another former coworker says. He also requested anonymity because he says he'll be blackballed just for being associated with Santana. "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you that Santana is a great guy changing the restaurant world, because he's not. He's doing this for personal gain. He finds a reason for the restaurants to fire him; then he sues. He knows all the tip-offs and how to file for retaliation or discrimination.

"That's what these restaurants do: They break the law," he adds. "So you can always find something to catch them on."

Like a cartel kingpin, Eddie Santana sits at his living-room table surrounded by snow-white stacks. Santana carefully sorts piles of legal documents. His small, neat Kendall apartment is a sea of lawsuits, arrest records, and affidavits.

He walks to the bedroom he shares with Blum and her two young children from previous relationships, reappearing with a tome the size of War and Peace. It's a copy of Santana's deposition from the Ruth's Chris lawsuit.

"I paid $1,400 for a copy of this," he boasts, showing New Times the receipt. "I have to read it to make sure I don't contradict myself in court. They try to catch you like that."

In Santana's mind, he's a modern-day David slinging rocks at South Florida's Goliath restaurant industry. But his role as the right­eous avenger is tainted by his own criminal record, which, according to court documents, includes possession of crack cocaine. Santana denies having a drug problem, but the issue threatens to derail his lawsuits as restaurants paint him in court as an unreliable addict.

"If I were really a drug addict like they say, would I be so organized?" Santana asks, disappearing and emerging once more with bottles of Xanax and Clonazepam: anti-anxiety medications. "This is all I take, and I have a prescription for them."

Court records suggest otherwise. In October 2006, Santana was arrested on charges of cocaine possession and petit larceny after Martino Tire Co. in Kendall accused him of driving off without paying for $200 in merchandise. When cops showed up at his apartment, they found a crack rock in his front left pocket, according to a police report.

Santana claims his brother, Luis, took the tires after he had lent him his car. He also says the cocaine was planted on him by cops, who illegally searched his neighbor's apartment. "Cops can't enter your home unless in 'immediate or fresh pursuit,' " he says, citing Florida law. "It was such bullshit."

A court eventually threw out the larceny charge, and a judge withheld adjudication on the drug rap, but the incident would stick with Santana.

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Michael E. Miller