MADRID – They booked banquets for hundreds of guests. They ate, drank, danced and even set off fireworks. But when desserts arrived, they drove away in the blink of an eye, leaving behind unpaid bills amounting to thousands of euros.
A trail of similar recent incidents in various restaurants in northwestern Spain is being investigated by police, who have detained one man from Romania whose identity matches some of the bookings, authorities said on Tuesday.
"We had just served the cake and they left just like that, without insults, without being rude to us. They got in their cars and sped out," said Antonio Rodriguez, who was the first restaurateur to alert authorities after staff in his Carmen Hotel found themselves with an unpaid bill of 2,200 euros ($2,300).
The reservation for Feb. 27 in Bembibre, a town in northwestern Castile and Leon region, was to celebrate the christening of two boys with appetizers, pork chops, dessert and alcohol for 120 guests, said Rodriguez. The cake was on its way when the guests left "in a stampede," he said.
A few days later, another establishment in Ponferrada, only 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away, served food and alcohol in a wedding banquet for a value of around 10,000 euros ($10,600) — with the same outcome.
Rodriguez says that at least one other similar incident has emerged in the northern region of Galicia since he told his story to local media. When the banquet was almost finished, guests came out of the dining hall to set off fireworks but never returned.
The owner of Carmen, who says he has never seen anything similar in almost four decades in the business, had been paid a deposit of 900 euros, but he expresses little hope of recovering the remaining debt.
"What's really worse is that it feels like they are pouring cold water onto you, seeing them leaving and knowing that there's nothing that you can do because these were huge men with muscles," Rodriguez told The Associated Press.
A spokesman with the Interior Ministry in Leon, the province where the first two cases were reported, confirmed the arrest on Monday of a first suspect.
A second man who is on the run could have left the country already, according to a spokesman with the Civil Guard, and more suspects have been identified. But no further details would be released to avoid tipping the fraudsters off.
Both officials spoke anonymously in line with internal policy.