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Three women sue ex-Franklin Manor owner, restaurant group for alleged sexual assault, exploitation

The women are demanding a jury trial.
Nocturnal Hospitality Group owners David Anderson and Lanfranco Pescante, right, at Mole y Abuela in March 2019 in Tampa.
Nocturnal Hospitality Group owners David Anderson and Lanfranco Pescante, right, at Mole y Abuela in March 2019 in Tampa. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Jul. 2, 2020|Updated Jul. 2, 2020

Three Florida women have filed a lawsuit accusing former Franklin Manor owner Lanfranco Pescante of sexual assault and exploitation. The 21-page complaint was filed by attorney Joseph G. Alvarez in Hillsborough County Court on Wednesday.

The lawsuit names Pescante, a former co-owner of the Tampa nightclub, as a defendant as well as the Nocturnal Group LLC and Nocturnal Hospitality Group LLC, which operated several Tampa Bay restaurants, including Mole y Abuela and Osteria Bar + Kitchen, all of which have closed. Pescante was a co-owner along with partner David Anderson in both the Nocturnal Group LLC and Nocturnal Hospitality Group LLC.

Related: Co-owner of Franklin Manor, other Tampa restaurants steps down after his posts spark outrage

Two of the women listed in the lawsuit were employees at Franklin Manor at the time of the alleged incidents. In the lawsuit, one of the women said that in December 2016, Pescante persuaded her “to engage in sexual acts through coercive means in exchange for preferential treatment, including preferential sections or tables within the night club.” The woman, listed as Jane Doe 1 in the document, said she suffered “psychological, emotional and physical injuries” as well as mental anguish.

The same woman said that in January 2017, Pescante “induced” her “to engage in sexual acts through coercive means” with him and another manager at Franklin Manor “in exchange for preferential treatment, including preferential sections or tables within the night club.” The lawsuit called Pescante’s actions “intentional, harmful, unwanted and offensive sexual contact.”

A second woman, listed as Jane Doe 2, said she was sexually assaulted by Pescante after the two attended a Tampa Bay Lighting game together on March 16, 2017. According to the lawsuit, while at the game Pescante bought her multiple drinks and shots “despite her reluctance and growing impairment.”

After the game, the woman said she “reluctantly returned” to Pescante’s apartment after being told “she would have a safe place to sleep and would not need to drive home.”

The woman said Pescante then tried to undress her despite her saying no. The woman said she eventually lost consciousness. When she woke up, the woman said she was naked and said she had been sexually assaulted “after she was incapable of consenting.”

She said she suffered “psychological, emotional and physical injuries, mental anguish and the loss of enjoyment of life,” as a result.

The third woman, listed as Jane Doe 3, was an employee at Franklin Manor at the time of the alleged incidents and said Pescante coerced her into drinking and partying while threatening her with repercussions at work if she didn’t comply.

According to the document, the woman was working one night in June 2019 when Pescante coerced her to drink excessively in order to be “fun.” It said Pescante told her that “if she did not go out and party with him that she would face negative repercussions at her work with Franklin Manor.”

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At the party, the document alleges, Pescante offered her a narcotic known as “2C.” The woman “verbally expressed her severe intoxication to Pescante who then proceeded to pressure, coerce, and threaten (her) using his agency position within Franklin Manor in order to engage in coercive sexual exploitation with (her) without her ability to consent.”

The lawsuit calls Franklin Manor, the Nocturnal Hospitality Group and Nocturnal Group negligent by allowing Pescante’s alleged actions to take place and says Franklin Manor co-owner David Anderson “knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that Pescante was unfit, dangerous, and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of women entrusted to him under his supervision as a managing partner.”

“Defendants knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that Lanfranco Pescante was unfit for the managerial duties assigned, did not exhibit appropriate boundaries with women, had the propensity to engage in inappropriate behavior with females and female employees,” the lawsuit said.

Anderson and Pescante did not return calls and emails for comment from the Times.

Wednesday’s lawsuit comes roughly a month after Pescante was accused of posting racist comments on social media that caused widespread criticism. Screenshots of Pescante commenting “Just shoot them all” in reference to protesters were shared online, as were screenshots of text messages allegedly from Pescante that included racial slurs. The comments came amid protests across the country over the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis in police custody on May 25.

Pescante apologized and resigned from his position at Nocturnal Hospitality Group within hours. Celebrity chef Fabio Viviani, of Bravo’s Top Chef fame, was also involved with the Nocturnal Hospitality Group and swiftly announced he was cutting ties with the group and its Tampa Bay restaurants.

Related: Fabio Viviani pulling out of Nocturnal Hospitality Group’s Tampa Bay restaurants, all of which are now closed

Alvarez, the attorney listed on the lawsuit, said he was contacted directly by the women after the news of Pescante’s resignation broke. Pescante’s alleged comments and his resignation received widespread attention on social media and Alvarez said he fielded calls from “well over a dozen” women with similar allegations.

“Tragically, a lot of these women fell out of the statute of limitations,” Alvarez said. In the state of Florida, there is a standard four-year window in which defendants can file a personal injury civil lawsuit. “A lot of them, they didn’t want to bring a lawsuit. They just wanted to tell me their story.”

The women listed in the lawsuit are asking for a jury trial.

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