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D.C. restaurateur Ari Gejdenson charged with reckless endangerment to a child in Connecticut incident

Owner Ari Gejdenson at Ari's Diner in the Ivy City neighborhood of D.C. in 2017. (Dixie D. Vereen/For The Washington Post)

Ari Gejdenson, the D.C. chef and entrepreneur who dissolved his restaurant group last year amid the pandemic, was charged Friday in a Connecticut state court with risk of injury to a child and reckless endangerment following an incident in which police say Gejdenson tried to harm himself and an unidentified child on the railroad tracks about 15 miles east of New Haven.

Police have released few details of the incident that took place on June 11 near the Guilford train station, where the crew on an Amtrak train apparently spotted Gejdenson and the child on the tracks and called authorities. In its report the following day, the Guilford Police Department said Gejdenson was “attempting [to] harm himself and the child on the tracks and the nearby waterway.”

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Gejdenson and the child apparently tried to flee the scene when officers arrived but were soon apprehended in a nearby marsh, police said. Neither Gejdenson nor the child was injured. Traffic on the Amtrak line was halted for about 50 minutes during the incident. Both adult and child were taken to a hospital for evaluation.

Gejdenson was supposed to be arraigned on June 14 but reportedly spent several days in a hospital. He was arraigned on Friday in a New Haven courthouse where he was charged with risk of injury to a child, first-degree reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, first-degree criminal trespass and attempt to commit assault in the first degree, according to court records. Gejdenson posted a $250,000 bond and was freed on house arrest, with an electronic monitoring bracelet.

The restaurateur is the son of Sam Gejdenson, a former Democratic congressman from Connecticut who spent 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. The elder Gejdenson still maintains a home in the New Haven area, according to public records.

“I’m not making any statements,” said Sam Gejdenson, when contacted earlier this month over the incident. “It’s a family issue.”

No one else in the Gejdenson family could be reached for comment. Ari Gejdenson’s defense attorney, William Dow, did not return a call for comment.

No one with the police, the prosecutor’s office or the family has released information about what might have led to the incident on the railroad tracks, though court and public documents show that Ari Gejdenson and his wife and business partner, Stacy, may have been facing more problems than the ones that surfaced in a 2018 investigation by The Washington Post. Three years ago, numerous women who worked for the couple’s Mindful Restaurant Group alleged that a former manager had sexually harassed them for years, allegations that the women said often fell on deaf ears with the owners.

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In 2019, the state of Maryland filed a tax lien against the couple for $70,355. What’s more, lenders have filed several uniform commercial code (UCC) liens against one or both of the Gejdensons and their business. The liens are common and do not, in and of themselves, indicate any financial trouble. They’re tools used to protect a lending institution’s assets should a borrower default on a loan, but the liens could make it difficult for the borrowers to secure further loans, financial experts say.

In October, the Gejdensons were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the landlord of their former Capitol Hill restaurant, Acqua Al 2. In the complaint, GB Biegalski Property claims the Gejdensons defaulted on a 10-year lease that began on Jan. 1, 2019. GB Biegalski also alleges the couple misled the company about their intentions to reopen Acqua Al 2 in July, after an early pandemic shutdown, and then spent several weeks removing property that belonged to the landlord. Once the Gejdensons allegedly removed the property, the landlord claims they permanently closed the restaurant and sought to terminate the lease.

The landlord is seeking $191,551 in unpaid rent and hundreds of thousands in damages to the property.

The Gejdensons “devastated and damaged the premises when they tore through it and ripped up every conceivable piece of property,” the complaint alleges. “They made drastic changes that were not minor, low-cost cosmetic changes. These changes decimated the premises.”

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Among the exhibits attached to the lawsuit is a guaranty that Ari Gejdenson signed. It makes him personally responsible for the lease’s obligations. Sam Gejdenson is also named as a guarantor.

In their response to the lawsuit, the Gejdensons denied all the allegations and requested the judge dismiss the case. A mediation session between the parties is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Less than a month before GB Biegalski filed the complaint, Ari Gejdenson told Washington City Paper that he was dissolving his Mindful Restaurant Group and selling the surviving restaurants to loyal employees. Gejdenson told the paper that he would remain a silent partner and investor.

“It’s not realistic to have a restaurant group with a high level of overhead to do sales that have small margins,” Gejdenson told City Paper’s Laura Hayes.

The attorney for GB Biegalski did not return a call and emails for comment about the dissolution of the Mindful Restaurant Group and how it could affect the lawsuit. An attorney for the Gejdensons declined to comment.

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