Man pleads not guilty in thefts to fund Disney trips
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The former manager of a Lincolnshire restaurant accused of stealing more than $50,000 to fund numerous trips to Disney World pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated identity theft in Lake County court Tuesday.
Alexander N. Pera, 26, of the 3800 block of North Ottawa Avenue in Chicago, has also been charged with three counts of identity theft and two counts of theft after police claimed he targeted employees and patrons at Eddie Merlot's Restaurant.
Pera has been held in lieu of $500,000 bail in Lake County jail since his July 2 arrest.
Defense attorney Adrian Gosch did not comment following the brief arraignment hearing.
Lincolnshire police were contacted in May by the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Orlando, Fla., claiming Pera — while working as a manager at Eddie Merlot's — had made more than 15 different Walt Disney World Resort reservations and two trips aboard the Disney Cruise Line in less than one year.
Pera had been providing false information to airlines and the Disney Company for his travel plans, and used fictitious names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to book reservations, authorities said.
Pera paid for the trips using fraudulently obtained gift cards and prepaid credit cards, police said. They added Pera acquired those gift cards using stolen credit card numbers and cash linked to diners and former employees at Eddie Merlot's, authorities said.
Authorities said Pera would mostly target business customers with corporate credit accounts cards dining at the restaurant. More than 50 victims were uncovered and losses totaled more than $50,000, officials said.
The management at Eddie Merlot's has cooperated with the investigation, officials said. A manager at the restaurant contacted Tuesday said Pera was no longer an employee.
Pera is due back in court Aug. 20. His trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 3, but that date is expected to be pushed back.
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