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Stardust Diner’s singing servers accused of stealing nearly $400K

They’ve got trouble — with a capital “T.”

Manhattan prosecutors are probing whether dozens of show tune-singing servers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner altered checks and tap-danced off with the cash.

The owners of the famed Broadway tourist trap claim 59 former employees “engaged in a prolonged pattern of stealing money” to the tune of nearly $400,000 in a scheme known in the restaurant industry as “soda shuffling” or the “floating drink,” according to court papers.

The servers — actors and actresses who would belt out Broadway standards in between slinging cheeseburgers and shakes — made off with a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars each before they were finally canned, according to a Manhattan federal court countersuit.

One waiter, an actor name Zechariah “Zech” Azazi, allegedly “stole at least $38,167.34” during a four-year period, the papers charge.

Abby Burke allegedly pocketed $18,069.17 over six years.

The servers and other staffers in the complaint worked at the restaurant for years, coming and going in between landing roles on Broadway, summer stock or cruise ships.

The 1950s-themed restaurant opened in 1987 and moved to its current location at the corner of 51st Street in 1995. It was an instant hit, at least with tourists who stood on long lines for a table inside where they dined on comfort-food classics like meatloaf and listen to live renditions of hits from “Hamilton” “Les Mis” or “Grease.”

The “Stardusters,” as they call themselves, strut on the backs of the red-vinyl booths and toss out straws to the diners, who are also showered in confetti.

Waitstaff performers belt it out at Ellen’s Stardust Diner.Helayne Seidman

But the servers say the family atmosphere at the eatery that changed in early 2016 when a new management team came on board.

The Stardusters began a union-organizing effort that they contend angered management and the restaurant’s owner, Ken Sturm, and led to mass firings in September 2016 and January 2017.

The axed workers publicized their firings on social media using the hashtag #StardustFamilyUnited.

But the owners’ new countersuit shows that the firings came two months after Ellen’s says it was tipped off to the “soda shuffling” scheme by an employee.

It brought in consultants who reviewed 10 years worth of records and the diner’s computerized point of sale system that tracked each server’s daily activity, court papers say.

In order to rip off the restaurant, a server would record a commonly ordered item such as a soda in the computer system and present the customer with the correct check, according to court papers. After the diner paid, the server would remove the item from the order in the computer system by shifting it to someone else’s bill. The server would pocket the cash difference between the real and doctored bills.

The same soda or coffee would travel from bill to bill throughout the day as the server would grab the money each time, legal papers charge.

The diner “has turned its findings over to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and is cooperating with its investigation of the matter,” Patrick McCarthy, a lawyer for Ellen’s, told The Post. The DA’s office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the diner’s countersuit is the legal retort to a class-action lawsuit filed by workers in December 2016.

The employees’ suit contends that Ellen’s wrongfully required servers to share their tips with other workers, failed to pay them overtime and, in some cases, withheld a portion of their tips.

Ben Dictor, a lawyer for the group, said Ellen’s owners are serving up the theft accusations “to chill other people’s participation” in the class-action lawsuit.

He said three fired workers won the right to collect unemployment because the state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board did not buy the contention that they were stealing from Ellen’s.

Another federal suit filed in April by four moms who work at the restaurant contends that the diner did not provide a proper place for them to pump breast milk.

The workers formed a group called Stardust Family United and call themselves a union although they never sought federal certification to be the collective bargaining representative of the diner’s employees.

A National Labor Relations Board hearing is set for September to decide whether the workers were canned for cause or as payback for union organizing activity.

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