BARTOW — A 54-year-old former cook at Hibachi Express restaurant in North Lakeland has been sentenced to seven years in prison for lacing the restaurant’s Yum Yum Sauce with deadly plumber’s lye.
Margarito Padilla, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, was arrested in June 2017 after surveillance video showed him appearing to access a new container of poisonous drain cleaner before walking to the area where the sauce was kept, according to Lakeland Police reports.
That same day, the restaurant’s owner, Zhong Kun Jiang, was conducting a routine inspection of supplies in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator when he noticed a strange appearance to the Yum Yum Sauce, which the restaurant serves routinely with meals, police reports stated. He dipped his finger into the 55-gallon container of sauce and tasted it, and his mouth instantly began to burn like something was cutting at his tongue and mouth, he told detectives.
Jiang confronted his employees about the incident and announced he was going to bring in law enforcement.
″(Padilla) urged (Jiang) not to call the police,” the arrest affidavit stated, “which heightened (Jiang’s) suspicion that the sauce was tampered with by (Padilla.)”
Jiang told detectives he reviewed the surveillance video, which showed Padilla kneeling near the lye container. Upon standing, police reports stated, there was a bulge in Padilla’s pocket that hadn’t been there when he knelt down. Padilla then is seen near the area where the sauce was kept, and the bulge in his pocket was gone, reports stated.
Jiang declined to comment for this report, saying through an interpreter that the memory of the incident is too painful for him.