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Friday, January 25, 2013

Italian tourist busted at posh East Side steakhouse for forgetting wallet, even after offering iPhone as collateral until he could return with cash

Welcome to New York, pal — now go to jail.

An Italian tourist spent his second night in the city behind bars after staff at an upscale East Side steakhouse called cops when he claimed he left his wallet at a friend’s place.

Graziano Graziussi, a 43-year-old lawyer from Naples, is a regular at Smith & Wollensky — but this time, barely 24 hours into his latest two-week stay in New York, he realized he didn’t have his wallet on him when a waiter presented him with the $208 bill Monday night.

“I forgot my wallet,” the clean-cut Graziussi told the waiter — but the staff at the Third Ave. eatery wasn’t buying it, even after Graziussi offered some pricey collateral while he went to get the cash about 30 blocks uptown.

“I was going to leave my iPhone,” he said. “I suggested they bring a bus boy with me. . . . It would have been an easy trip.”

But the general manager called police instead.

Cops showed up and declined to help Graziussi get out of the cashless chaos — even though he told them he’d prove he had the money if they’d only drive him uptown.

“They replied that they were not a taxi service,” Graziussi said. “The next thing I know, I was put in handcuffs.”

The cops hauled him over to the 17th Precinct stationhouse on E. 51st St., where Graziussi was placed in a holding cell and charged with theft of services.

One police veteran told the Daily News he wasn’t surprised to hear that the restaurant wouldn’t take the phone as collateral.

“How do they know that iPhone was his? It could have come from anywhere,” the cop said.

Smith & Wollensky management declined to comment. But diners said the staff could have been more understanding.

“You never know,” said one customer, who declined to give his name. “I’ve got my own business, and I give people the benefit of the doubt. They probably should have given him a time scale. If he didn’t come back in an hour, they’d call the cops.”

The problem is there really isn’t any protocol for handling well-meaning, but empty-pocketed customers, another police source said.

“If you can’t pay — sorry, but you’re going to jail,” the source said.

And restaurateurs say dining-and-dashing is rampant.

In the latest example, in early January, cops busted a one-time food blogger who stiffed three restaurants using the excuse that she left her credit card at home.

“There are more cons than ever in this economy we’re in,” said Rick Passarelli, owner of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse on Park Ave. “It’s just a sign of the times. Maybe they (Smith & Wollensky) just put their foot down.”

Graziussi’s night in jail — which was first chronicled by the blog Honest Cooking — was “horrible,” the tourist said.

But he admitted the ordeal was still somewhat entertaining.

“The people (in custody) I met were actually quite civilized,” he said. “It was like a movie. It was quite an experience.”

A judge tossed the case Tuesday morning, after Graziussi — who had never been arrested before — promised to return to court next week and pay the check.

But the whole experience has soured Graziussi on Smith & Wollensky.

“Do you know of any other good steakhouses around here?” he asked.

By Kerry Burke AND Joe Kemp / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

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