Former restaurant manager accused of attempted rape, later hired by Uber

by Kevin Lewis/ ABC7

Thursday, January 5th 2017

POTOMAC, Md. (ABC7) – A former restaurant manager accused of trying to rape one of his female employees, was driving for Uber until ABC7 notified the rideshare app about his pending case.

Cesar Leon, 40, of the 11900 block of Andrew Street in Silver Spring, is facing charges of attempted second-degree rape, false imprisonment and second-degree assault.

According to Montgomery County District Court records, Leon worked as a manager at the California Tortilla located in the Cabin John strip mall along Tuckerman Lane in Potomac. On Halloween, around 6:45 a.m., Leon allegedly made sexual comments towards a 51-year-old female employee. They were the only two in the quick service restaurant, prepping food and cleaning ahead of the establishment’s 10:30 a.m. open.

While the woman worked in the customer seating area, Leon allegedly dragged her towards the bathrooms. Police say a struggle ensued, during which, Leon lifted the woman’s shirt, touched her breasts, tried to remove her pants and then pushed her towards the ground. The manager also reportedly stated that he wanted, “to make love to her.” In what can be described as good timing, a fellow employee entered the Mexican-style food chain, giving the woman the ability to flee from Leon’s firm grip.

Detectives interviewed the victim who stated she, "feared the worst." Investigators photographed bruises on the woman’s arms and scratches on her stomach. The victim showed police text messages and played a voicemail in which Leon profusely apologized for his actions. She’d also sent a text message to a friend before the assault, writing, “I’m frightened that he may do something to me, come soon.”

Perhaps the most damning evidence – restaurant surveillance video, police say, shows Leon “bear hug” and pull the woman towards the bathroom hallway. Minutes later, the woman re-appeared, running towards the front door – her hair disheveled. Leon, however, blocked her from leaving, led her to a table, grabbed her by the face and hands, and tried to bear hug her again, police add. That’s right around when the third employee arrived for their shift.

Bob Phillips, president of California Tortilla, says the quick service food company fired Leon “immediately” after allegations of impropriety came to light. Phillips believed Leon had been employed with the company for about five years.

In effort to make ends meet, Leon applied to be an Uber driver. The rideshare app approved his application in early to mid-December. Police then filed criminal charges against the restaurant manager, turned chauffer, on December 28.

ABC7 contacted Uber on January 5, in reference to Leon’s pending attempted rape case. By close of business that same day, the company confirmed Leon no longer had access to the driver platform. In total, he transported passengers in the DC-region for around three weeks.

Uber contends that although it performed a background check on Leon, nothing populated because Montgomery County authorities did not file charges until roughly two weeks after Leon had been hired. To prevent missing post-hire criminal accusations and convictions such as this, Uber says it performs annual background checks on all of its drivers within D.C., Maryland and Virginia. But, as in this case, that technique is not foolproof.

“Oh my God,” Uber customer Mary Kennedy exclaimed. ““Obviously he’s got issues controlling himself, and who’s to say it’s going to stop when he’s driving an Uber with a woman all to himself?”

Leon, a native of Mexico, lives in a duplex with his wife and four children. He’s resided in the property for 14 years. According to Maryland Judiciary Case Search, Montgomery County Police charged him with DUI in January 2012. Prosecutors, however, dropped the case. No other criminal charges or serious traffic citations were listed on the state database.

“He’d say, ‘hello’ here and there, maybe waive every now and then,” Leon’s next-door-neighbor, Roberto Ramos, said. “I’m glad there was surveillance there, and she wasn’t afraid to go to the police. It’s just very scary.”

When ABC7 reached Leon by telephone Thursday, he stated that he enjoyed driving for Uber, but wouldn’t discuss the pending attempted rape accusations. He directed all questions to his attorney, and simultaneously refused to share his attorney's name or phone number.

Leon is currently out on bond. He will return to Montgomery County District Court in Rockville on January 27, at 10 a.m. for a preliminary hearing. He faces up to 30 years in state prison.