BUSINESS

Anti-'Socialism' Diner Owner Accused Of Fraud 'Needed A Safety Net'

Michael Tassone's restaurant offers a "Dictator Obama" breakfast special.
Michael Tassone, owner of the American Diner in upstate New York, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of welfare bene
Michael Tassone, owner of the American Diner in upstate New York, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of welfare benefits.

Customers at the American Diner in Liverpool, New York, know exactly where owner Michael Tassone stands politically.

Even the coffee is stirred to the right.

Fox News has called Tassone's eatery "the most politically incorrect diner in the Empire State -- and possibly the nation." It's not hard to see why: One of the breakfast items is a "Dictator Obama" special. You get eggs and toast for $3.59... plus an additional $27.99 "tax."

There is also the “Anti Michelle Obama, Don’t Tell Me What To Eat or Feed My Kids Burger,” a 16-ounce beef patty with bacon, cheese and a side of fries for $11.99.

The menu includes a list of various statements above the burgers: "Everyone Doesn't Get The Same Size Trophy"; "Defeat socialism and communism"; "Actually, I did build MY business"; "Gov't & Taxes are the problem"; "We don't like Political correctness or special interest."

But Tassone, 48, is facing accusations of hypocrisy after pleading guilty to defrauding the government of more than $23,000 in benefits between May 2009 and April 2011, Syracuse.com reported last week.

Tassone admitted to offering a false instrument for filing, a misdemeanor. He paid $23,354 in restitution to the county.

Tassone was originally charged with welfare fraud and Medicaid fraud in 2011, according to McClatchy News. Prosecutors said Tassone and his wife, Michelle, failed to disclose income on their application and received benefits they weren't eligible for.

For his part, Tassone says the truth is more complicated.

He said he and his wife applied for Medicaid and welfare years ago, before he opened the diner.

"We were between jobs and I needed a safety net for my sick wife," Tassone told The Huffington Post. "I qualified, but there was a technicality. My wife didn't check the right box."

"It wasn't welfare fraud," he said, "which is why it was only a misdemeanor." 

Michael Kasmarek, the senior assistant district attorney for Onondaga County, agrees that calling it "welfare fraud" may not be completely accurate, since there is a separate statute for that crime.

"Putting that label on it is problematic, but the conduct did violate those statutes," Kasmarek told HuffPost. "We negotiated down to the misdemeanor because he paid the money back prior to the plea and [because of] a lack of criminal history."

Tassone said he only agreed to the charge because he had no more money for attorney's fees and didn't want to risk being tried by a jury of people who are "not of my peers and risk losing the business and putting seven people out of work."

He accused the district attorney's office of going after him because of his beliefs.

"Guys like me are a target," Tassone told Syracuse.com in March. “Because I speak the truth.”

Kasmarek said that no one in his office was aware of the business or of Tassone's political views until the restaurant received national attention for its quirky menu earlier this year.

The American Diner currently has a three-star rating on Yelp, based on 49 reviews.

One reviewer, who gave the place four stars, said, "I even was shocked by the menu because there was so many political remarks that it made me feel awkward but no denying the food was good."

Tassone said he may make his views clear on the menu, but his diner is a place for open discussion.

"We have a lot of fun here," he said. "A lot of liberals order the Michelle Obama burger."

HuffPost

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