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Top Executive at Chipotle Indicted in Cocaine Trafficking Ring

Photo: Chipotle in Centennial Colo. J Sparks

NEW YORK – Just when you thought things could not get any worse for Chipotle Mexican Grill, the troubled chain dealing with massive food safety issues and falling profits has now been served a new challenge. The company's chief creative and development officer Mark Crumpacker was charged this week with drug possession and having ties to a cocaine trafficking ring in New York.

Following the Manhattan District Attorney's drug bust on Thursday, a spokesman for Denver-based Chipotle's announced that Crumpacker has been placed on administrative leave. "We know very little about these charges. Due to the nature of this situation, Mark has been placed on administrative leave. We made this decision in order to remain focused on the operation of our business and to allow Mark to focus on these personal matters," Chris Arnold stated in an email.

Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) opened its first restaurant in 1993, with the idea to show that food served fast didn’t have to be a “fast-food” experience. The company touts that it uses high-quality raw ingredients, classic cooking methods and distinctive interior design. Today, it has more than 2,000, non-franchised restaurants, 26 outside the U.S.

The Denver Post reported yesterday that Crumpacker's compensation from Chipotle was $4.28 million last year, including $532,077 in cash salary. He had made $11.2 million in compensation the prior two years. Before taking over Chipotle's marketing in 2009, Crumpacker was an executive at brand adviser Sequence LLC, which he co-founded in 2002. The Post said Chipotle has used that firm to help with its Food with Integrity campaign.

Chipotle's same-store sales fell dramatically after news surfaced about customers falling ill in its restaurants across the country. Last December the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it was investigating the chain for a new outbreak of E.coli which sickened five people in three states. That was before more than 150 customers at Chipotle's Boston restaurants came down with a norovirus. The New York Times reported that more than 500 people became sick after eating at a Chipotle in the second half of last year.

One month later The Denver Post listed the results of the city's Department of Public Health's analysis of its health inspections, along with two other restaurant chains. It stated that inspectors found serious problems including mouse carcass and rodent droppings at a downtown Chipotle location. Denver's health department manager stated, "I think this is generating concern in the food industry, especially with quick-service restaurant chains. Chipotle certainly had a reputation as a business with strong processes and controls in place. I think it's been eye-opening for everyone to see them struggle with these issues."

Mark Crumpacker has been the face of Chipotle recently, leading the company's effort to adopt more stringent food safety protocols and spending millions of dollars on marketing to win back customers. Now, the chain is forced once again to undertake damage control, this time without Mr. Crumpacker.

Photo: Chipotle's new marketing strategy campaign (J Sparks)

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance and the New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the indictment of three narcotics traffickers for selling more than $75,000 worth of cocaine over the course of a year-long conspiracy. All three are charged with using livery services to deliver cocaine to customers throughout Manhattan. One known to have "Drug Kingpin" statute, a class A-1 felony. Both agencies announced that 37 people had been arrested, some rival gangs in Harlem, charged with murder, 14 shootings, gun trafficking and assaults. That bust is linked to the death of Detective Randolph Holders.

The 119-count indictment details how the ring leaders personally conducted the alleged crime, using car services to deliver the drugs to buyers, including to delis, restaurants, bars, apartments, hotels, and the buyers of drugs workplaces. The DA's office said many of the drug sales took place in delis or Duane Reade and CVS pharmacies.

Fox5 reported that Crumpacker is one of 18 alleged customers of the drug trafficking scheme. Among them are a Merrill Lynch banker and a Fox Business producer (Fox Business and, both owned by 21st Century Fox).

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About Janet Sparks

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Public Profile

Janet Sparks is the former publisher of the Continental Franchise Review, an industry newsletter that covered the franchise community for over 30 years. She has also been a columnist for a leading franchise magazine for the past 13 years. Today she is an independent journalist who engages in investigative reporting, tackling complex issues that impact the franchise industry.

Janet can be reached at or at 303-799-7398.