LAKE GEORGE — The Lake George restaurateur who was arrested Wednesday for alleged sexual assault of a young female employee and harassment of others at his eatery remained in jail Thursday as police heard from more women complaining about his actions toward his staff.
Jonathan L. LaRock, 65, of Moreau, was sent to Warren County Jail for lack of $15,000 cash bail or $30,000 bail bond after arraignment and not guilty pleas were entered in Lake George Town Court. He was represented by the Warren County Public Defender’s Office, which had no comment on the case Thursday.
LaRock has run the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on Route 9 in Lake George since early 2015, when it reopened after being closed for several years.
After LaRock’s arrest was publicized, Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale said police heard Thursday from additional potential victims, who officers plan to interview in the coming days. It was unclear whether they would lead to additional charges, he said.
LaRock was charged with felony sexual abuse, two misdemeanor counts of unlawful imprisonment and four misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child for alleged actions with employees ages 14 to 43 since June 2016. The felony charge accuses him of forcing sexual contact on a young woman who worked for him.
He was arrested after police documented allegations by four young women who had worked at the restaurant, and Stockdale said he “minimized” his actions when he was taken from the restaurant Wednesday to be questioned before he was charged.
“He said this was his way of joking with people,” Stockdale said.
LaRock was arrested Wednesday after an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office that began with a 17-year-old former employee taking her complaints of inappropriate contact to social media.
The teen worked as a waitress and said she quit because of sexual harassment, and hundreds of comments on Facebook ensued, including nearly three dozen from other current or former workers at the restaurant. One went to police, and a number of others followed.
In all, police said they had heard from 15 former employees who claimed misconduct by LaRock, though not all of the allegations rose to the level of criminal charges.
Court records paint a shocking picture of months of fondling, unwanted physical contact and harassment as well as offers to get underage teens alcohol and drugs.
Among the allegations:
One teen told investigators that one day in October 2016, LaRock grabbed her breasts, rubbed his crotch against her buttocks until she pulled away, and told her “You have to kiss me if you want to get paid.” The young woman told police: “Finally I was able to break free. I grabbed my bag and my phone and I walked out the door and got into my car. I cried the whole way home.”
Another told police that LaRock gave her $50 to take two white pills with the letter “M” and some numbers on them, and that she pretended to swallow them but spit them out. A friend of the teen, who also worked there, told police she witnessed the incident.
Some complained LaRock would trick them into looking at pornography on his cellphone.
They also alleged that LaRock paid many of them cash, off the books, served expired and moldy food and would use binoculars to watch women in bathing suits at Water Slide World across Route 9.
One said LaRock would offer to make her food, but she wouldn’t eat it because she was afraid he would put drugs in it.
LaRock could be overheard propositioning female foreign workers he employed as well.
Court records include numerous written statements from young women who outlined misconduct that typically ended only when they stopped working at the restaurant. He would repeatedly hug them and not let go, and employees would warn them about his behavior when they were hired, they said.
“He was always brushing his hand on my butt and would say, ‘Oh, sorry babe,’” one told police. “He would play with my hair and call me ‘blondie.’”
Several teens said he offered to buy and/or drink alcohol with them, invited them to his home and one said he told her he could get pills that would help her sexually. The behavior continued despite the fact that other employees would tell LaRock that his behavior was wrong and possibly illegal, court records show.
One alleged victim told police that she was afraid to tell her parents, and left because “I just didn’t want to deal with him harassing me anymore,” court records show.
“When I was working alone I would be terrified because I was afraid if he did something I was a little girl and I couldn’t protect myself,” the 16-year-old former waitress wrote.
The employees said they tolerated the abuse as long as they did because they needed the job, or that they didn’t come forward because they were ashamed or afraid.
Stockdale said the Sheriff’s Office had not been contacted by any of the alleged victims before the last few days, when the social media uproar grew.
Anyone with information in the case was asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 518-743-2500.
LaRock had run the restaurant, the last remaining Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in the country, since 2015.
The status of the eatery was unclear Thursday morning. It did not appear open, and no one answered the phone later in the day.
Joseph DeSantis, who owns the property, could not be reached Thursday.
LaRock faces up to 7 years in state prison if convicted of first-degree sexual abuse.