Chef made half-baked promises, allegedly tricked culinary students into free labor 

The City Attorney’s Office has sued a chef who allegedly tricked recent immigrants into paying up to $4,000 for job training, then had them working catering events without pay on the false promise of future employment.

The lawsuit claims that chef Angelo Mueller used local nonprofits to refer culinary students to his Academie de Cuisine, which he said was a prestigious establishment in Montecito in Southern California. The address he provided actually belonged to a pizza restaurant.

According to the lawsuit, about 50 students paid $2,000 to $4,000 last fall for culinary training that took place in two offices in The City. Classes were allegedly conducted without regard to the English skills of the students, many of whom were Chinese immigrants.

Former instructor Randy Wei said the students were made to sign waivers stating that they would work catering events for free.

When it became clear that they would not be getting their paid “externship,” nine of the students took the matter to Sing Tao Daily, a local Chinese newspaper, in February. The suit said the school then threatened the students with lawsuits if they did not apologize.

The school, which is still in operation, appeared legitimate to many outsiders. Its website depicts Sen. Dianne Feinstein with students, and advertises the program as helping “young and mature students alike who deserve a ‘second chance’ in life, whether they are at risk, newly emigrated or looking for a way to re-enter the work force.”

Wei, a career chef, said he quit after four months of teaching when the scam became clear, but he was initially drawn to the program because he was helped by a similar Chinatown school in the early ’80s.

“[Mueller] was a personable guy, but you’d walk away and say to yourself, ‘This guy has some unrealistic visions,’” Wei said. “He was talking about a whole culinary empire he was going to build in San Francisco.”

Jack Song, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said he hopes the suit will encourage the school to shut down. Officials from the school did not return calls.

The lawsuit called Mueller a previously convicted con man. A press release from the City Attorney’s Office said he was released from federal prison in Utah in February 2010 after mail- and securities-fraud convictions.

Cooking up a scam

- Recent immigrant students pay $2,000 to $4,000 for culinary classes and on-the-job training.
- In return, they were promised experience and a 12-week paid “externship.”
- Classes were conducted regardless of students’ English acumen.
- Students signed waivers saying they would work catering events without pay.
- Paid externships were not actually available.

Source: City Attorney’s lawsuit

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