Sophie Bolich

Milwaukee Temporarily Closes Taco Bell, Citing Manager’s Drug, Alcohol Use

The employee also admitted to providing illegal substances to an underage worker.

By - Nov 22nd, 2023 03:24 pm
Taco Bell. File photo by Sophie Bolich.

Taco Bell. File photo by Sophie Bolich.

The general manager of a local Taco Bell earned a double suspension for the restaurant after members of the Milwaukee Common Council learned that the he was consuming alcohol and marijuana on-premises, as well as providing the substances to an underage employee.

The same manager was also accused of child enticement, though the complaint was later retracted.

The council voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to close the restaurant, 6268 S. 27th St., for 10 days. Additionally, Taco Bell’s extended hours establishment license will be suspended for 30 days, forcing it to close earlier. The restaurant will be closed until Dec. 1, at which point it will reopen with limited hours. Extended hours will resume on Dec. 21.

Attorney Richard Donner appeared twice before the Milwaukee Licenses Committee on behalf of Taco Bell. The first license renewal hearing, held Oct. 17, was cut short because he and other Taco Bell representatives were unable to answer questions related to various issues at the location.

At the latest hearing, held Nov. 7, committee members heard from Donner, as well as Melissa Johnston, vice president of human resources for Taco Bell. Milwaukee Police Department officer Jedidiah Thompson also testified.

Thompson’s investigation found that both parties admitted, and texts confirmed, that the manager provided alcohol to the younger employee, drank with him on the premises during work hours and allowed him to smoke marijuana while working.

But the picture was less clear regarding the accusation of child enticement. According to the 16-year-old employee’s initial complaint, the manager propositioned him twice for sexual acts, once offering money. But the child and his father later retracted the accusations, prompting the police to stop the investigation. The District Attorney’s Office did not press charges. Taco Bell completed its own internal investigation.

But committee members questioned a series of texts in which the manager offered to pay the employee $60 to show up early and complete an unspecified task. Thompson was unable to recall how the manager explained that exchange.

Committee members raised alarms over the manager’s behavior, but were particularly troubled by the company’s disciplinary actions — or lack thereof — for the manager, who was terminated two months after the enticement accusation for an unrelated offense.

“What does someone have to do to get fired from Taco Bell?” Alderwoman Andrea Pratt asked Johnston, counting off the manager’s transgressions on her fingers. “They smoked weed and we have proof of it, possible child enticement and drinking on-premises … I’m not sure what the standard is, because if someone took money out of the register, I’m sure they would be gone immediately.”

In light of the accusations, the employee was suspended for 10 days, according to Johnston. “We were unable to substantiate the allegations. So that’s why he was returned to work,” she said, noting that Taco Bell has a policy against marijuana use on the premises, but does not drug test employees.

Donner also clarified that Taco Bell was unaware — at that time — of the manager’s use of substances on-premises. “It seems to be implied that they knew and chose to ignore it,” the attorney said. “I don’t think that is accurate.”

He noted that Taco Bell did not have access to the police report, which would have revealed the manager’s drug and alcohol violations.

Even so, Alderman Jonathan Brostoff said he was unsatisfied with the company’s internal investigation. “It’s so incredibly serious, and should be handled as such,” he said of the enticement complaint. “And if not, you could be putting someone who has engaged in that behavior right back into a situation where it can continue, and there are more kids exposed to that sort of coercion.”

Ald. Mark Borkowski pointed out the “terrible disconnect” between Taco Bell’s higher-ups and its physical locations. “We all have Taco Bells in our districts,” he said. “Somebody somewhere should’ve said ‘okay, this has to end, this is how we take care of this, end of story.’ And yet, I don’t get any kind of effect that even top management cares.”

Licensee Thomas Cook lives out-of-state and did not appear virtually or in-person at either hearing. Cook is co-founder and CEO of Pacific Bells LLC, which operates 243 Taco Bell restaurants, including eight in the city of Milwaukee.

Both Johnston and Donner said the situation has revealed issues in Taco Bell’s disciplinary procedures. “While this is a horrific incident, it’s not a pattern,” Donner said.

At the prompting of the committee, Johnston committed to drafting new investigation procedures within 24 hours. “It should change, absolutely it should change,” she said.

Brostoff moved for non-renewal of the restaurant’s license, but the vote didn’t pass.

Chambers followed with a motion to renew the restaurant’s license with a 10-day suspension, along with a 30-day suspension for its extended hours license. The motion passed 3-2, with Borkowski and Brostoff in opposition.

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Categories: Food & Drink

One thought on “Milwaukee Temporarily Closes Taco Bell, Citing Manager’s Drug, Alcohol Use”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    This should spawn another lawsuit against the City. Like the lawsuit by the
    gas station owner whose “security guard” shot a young man to death for stealing
    some food.

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