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Executive for ‘Soup Nazi’ company pleads not guilty to felony tax evasion

The Original Soupman location.
Mike Coppola | Getty Images
The Original Soupman location.

An executive at Soupman Inc., the company that licensed the recipes of the "Soup Nazi" made famous by the television show "Seinfeld," has landed in hot water.

Federal prosecutors have accused Robert Bertrand, Soupman's chief financial officer, of avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax payments — including Social Security, Medicare and federal income — by paying employees off the books.

At an arraignment on Tuesday, Mr. Bertrand pleaded not guilty and was released on $50,000 bail, according to the United States attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York.

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Soupman sells soup and licenses franchises inspired by the famous Manhattan shop that Al Yeganeh opened in 1984.

Mr. Yeganeh became known as the "Soup Nazi," a name he has reportedly never liked, after "Seinfeld" memorialized him in a 1995 episode.

The real Mr. Yeganeh set three rules for customers at his original shop, Soup Kitchen International, near the corner of 55th Street and Eighth Avenue: "Pick the soup you want! Have your money ready! Move to the extreme left after ordering!"

On "Seinfeld," the actor Larry Thomas played a character named Yev Kassem, an angry chef who yelled "No soup for you!" at any customer who did not follow the rules.

On Tuesday, the one accused of breaking rules was Mr. Bertrand, 62. Mr. Yeganeh was not named as a defendant.

According to the indictment, Mr. Bertrand made payments to Soupman employees in cash and stock assets, and did not report them properly, even after he acknowledged the objections of an external accountant. The off-the-books payments totaled $2.85 million, costing the United States about $594,000 in lost taxes from 2010 to 2014, prosecutors said.

The interval encompasses 20 filing periods, which is why Mr. Bertrand is charged with 20 felony counts of tax evasion. If convicted, he could be sentenced to five years in prison.

"As alleged, the United States was fleeced out of more than half a million dollars through the defendant's corporate misdeeds," Bridget M. Rohde, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a news release on Tuesday. "Tax crimes like those alleged in the indictment hurt every American citizen."

James D. Robnett, a special agent in charge at the Internal Revenue Service's criminal division in New York, said that in addition to hurting the government, such evasion would also result "in the loss of future Social Security and Medicare benefits for the employees of Soupman Inc."

The company did not return phone calls or respond to email messages seeking comment on Tuesday. Mr. Bertrand's federally appointed lawyer confirmed his client's not-guilty plea, but did not comment further.

Mr. Yeganeh, who could not be reached for comment, closed his original shop in 2004 to focus on a national franchise operation. The Soupman website lists locations in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, and Soupman products are available at grocery stores across the United States.

Mr. Yeganeh reopened his shop, now called The Original Soupman, in the same location in 2010 and has been known to make occasional appearances there.