Mark Crumpacker was at the helm of a mission: Help rehabilitate Chipotle’s image after food safety scares led to plunging sales.
The 53-year-old executive had his work cut out for him. Two E. coli outbreaks and norovirus had left dozens sick, prompting store closures and becoming the company’s biggest public health and image crisis to date.
But as the restaurant chain struggles to overcome these troubles, Crumpacker, the public face of the company, has been placed on administrative leave after he was charged with drug possession in an alleged cocaine ring that included 17 other customers, the Associated Press reported.
The Chipotle executive turned himself in Tuesday, said his attorney, Gerald Lefcourt. Crumpacker was arrested and has since been released on $4,500 bond; he is due in court Sept. 8, Lefcourt told The Washington Post.
Crumpacker was charged with seven counts of possession of a controlled substance, New York Police Sgt. Lee Jones told the AP.
“We don’t have any statement to make,” Lefcourt said after a hearing Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported. “We’re going to deal with the case in the courtroom.”
Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said Tuesday that the company was “aware that Mark presented himself to authorities earlier today. He was placed on a leave of absence last week immediately upon learning of these allegations and remains on leave from his job to focus on these personal matters.”
As chief creative and development officer, Crumpacker was charged with helping restore Chipotle’s brand.
Two E. coli outbreaks sickened 60 people and prompted the closure last fall of more than 40 restaurants in Washington and Oregon. E. coli cases were also reported in another seven states.
In February, public health officials declared the outbreak over. And though it was linked to “a common meal item or ingredient,” its exact source may never be known, officials said.
A restaurant that was once lauded as the force behind major changes in the fast-food industry took a huge public-relations hit, and its effects have been long-lasting: In April, Chipotle announced its first-ever loss as a public company.
The Denver-based chain has tried to reassure its customer base.
Every Chipotle in the country closed for a national food safety meeting. Food safety consultants were brought in. Pledges were made to conduct stricter ingredient testing and revamp operations.
Every day, Crumpacker received 60 pages of marketing research – the “burrito bible” – as detailed by Quartz in April. The documents were chock full of data showing how often customers visited Chipotle and how they felt about the fast-casual chain, Quartz reported.
But what could Chipotle do to woo customers back and return to the high-sales days of old? “I wish I had compelling data on that, because we certainly asked the question,” Crumpacker said at an investor conference in March, Quartz reported. “It’s just not something people can really answer. You basically get a hundred different answers.
“The most compelling thing is time. They just want- I just want to give it a little bit of time.”
The company tried gimmicks. It offered free burritos across the country. Twice.
And just last week, it announced a program called “Chiptopia,” created to “reward our most loyal customers who continue to support our efforts to cultivate a better world,” Crumpacker said in a release.
“While Chiptopia Summer Rewards lasts just three months, we will be carefully listening to our customers and using what we learn as we consider the design of an ongoing rewards program,” he said.
Three days after unveiling Chiptopia, news broke about a cocaine ring.
Crumpacker was placed on administrative leave “in order to remain focused on the operation of our business and to allow Mark to focus on these personal matters,” the company said in a statement. “Mark’s responsibilities have been assigned to other senior managers in his absence.”
Crumpacker has been with Chipotle since 2009, when he was appointed chief marketing officer. He became the chief development officer in 2013. In 2015, his title was changed to chief creative and development officer, according to a company filing.
Last year, Crumpacker – who attended University of Colorado and the Art College of Design in California – earned nearly $4.3 million in total compensation, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Prosecutors alleged that Crumpacker was involved in a cocaine ring, making purchases between Jan. 29 and May 14, the AP reported.
He was among 17 other buyers, prosecutors allege, many of them white collar professionals; a Fox Business Network producer and a Merrill Lynch client associate were also indicted.
Last week, officials announced they had indicted three narcotics traffickers – Feliz Nunez, Oscar Almonte and the alleged ringleader, Kenny Hernandez – alleging they had sold more than $75,000 worth of cocaine via car services that delivered drugs to customers throughout New York City.
Many sales, prosecutors alleged, also took place in delis and Duane Reade and CVS stores, with customers paying $200 to $300 per transaction.
Some of Crumpacker’s alleged purchases coincided with some of the toughest days for his company, as noted by Bloomberg.
His first alleged cocaine purchase, according to prosecutors, took place on Jan. 29, Bloomberg reported. Three days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results of its probe into two E. coli outbreaks linked to Chipotle restaurants that left at least 60 people sick.
Another alleged purchase, Bloomberg reported, took place on March 8 – the same day a Boston-area Chipotle restaurant temporarily shut down after four employees reported feeling sick and one employee tested positive for norovirus.
Alleged cocaine purchases also took place a day after the company posted its first-ever loss, in April, and on May 11, the same day as Chipotle’s annual meeting, according to Bloomberg.
Investigators said the drug “operation was organized and discreet.”
“Selling cocaine in a variety of bars and clubs throughout Manhattan, the ringleader also allegedly sold to NYPD undercovers on more than a dozen instances,” NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said in a statement.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said customers were charged extra because of the premium delivery component.
“This was a high-end, on-demand service,” Vance told the New York Daily News.
Those who bought included “key repeat customers,” Vance said.