The good news is that established restaurateurs hope to take over the vacant Pompei’s Grotto and Lou’s Fish Shack. The bad news is they allegedly tried to bribe port officials with $19,000 to do so, and one of the port officials was actually an undercover FBI agent.

We’d reported in July that two long-established Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants, Pompei’s Grotto and Lou’s Fish Shack, had both closed permanently. Neither had been open at any point since the pandemic hit, and like many other Fisherman’s Wharf eateries, fell behind on rent and had to be surrendered back to their landlord, the Port of San Francisco.

Now both of those Fisherman’s Wharf restaurants are back in the news, for very awkward reasons.  

The Bay Area News Group broke the news today that the owners of another Wharf restaurant, Nick's Lighthouse, were charged with bribing port officials with $19,000 in an attempt to take over the vacant restaurants. Moreover, those owners Min Ki “James” Paik (63) and wife Hye Paik (60) were not aware that one of the so-called port officials they were dealing with was an undercover FBI agent performing a sting operation on them.

The scheme reportedly started in May, when the Paiks allegedly approached a port official offering thousands in cash to fast-track their bids to take over the two vacant restaurants. That port official notified the FBI, who put an agent on the case and encouraged the port official to play along.

The unnamed port official, cooperating with the FBI, reportedly accepted $3,000 in cash on three separate occasions. Roping in the undercover FBI agent, they then got the Paiks to pay $5,000 to each of them to ensure the Paiks would win the bidding process.

The SF Business Times has some of the reported conversations between “James” Paik and the undercover agent. “Don't change the mind. I want to keep going, lifetime. Believe me, OK?... Very good for you. Very good for you," Paik allegedly told the agent. The Business Times also reports that Paik then handed the agent an envelope that “contained $3,000 in $100 bills and ‘Thank you!’ was written on the outside of the envelope.”

The Paiks now both face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribing an employee of an agency that receives federal funds, charges that carry five- to ten-year prison sentences. They are both out on $50,000 bonds, and are scheduled to appear in court again on January 3.

Related: Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurants Pompei’s Grotto and Lou’s Fish Shack Both Close Permanently [SFist]

Image: Manny B. via Yelp