WRAL Investigates

Former Bhavana beverage director must register as sex offender

Posted November 20, 2020 1:56 p.m. EST
Updated November 20, 2020 5:39 p.m. EST

— The former beverage director for award winning restaurants Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana must register as a sex offender, Wake County Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley ruled Friday.

Jordan Hester, 38, pleaded guilty to four counts of felony secret peeping and installing/using a photo device in a room. Four women said that Hester secretly recorded them during separate sexual encounters.

Hester, who was arrested in July, will serve four weekends in jail - one for each of his charges. He will also be under supervised probation for 60 months and must complete 100 hours of community service. Hester will also be required to register as a sex offender.

“Jordan taped me without my consent, and that’s what he’s pleading guilty to today. That action changed the way I interact with the world. I don’t enter a room the same way; when I go home with a date for the first time, I scan the room for cameras. I keep tape over my webcams at home. I get nervous about security cameras and being observed in public. I feel reflexive anxiety in the back of my mind years later,” Madison Roberts said in court Friday.

Roberts, who dated Hester in 2010 and 2011, told WRAL News that she became aware of the recordings while she was still dating Hester.

“There was a setting on his webcam that would turn the active light off so that it would appear that the webcam was not on. And then, you turn the computer screen off. It just looks like it's in sleep mode. So, that’s how he was making these videos,” Roberts said.

Roberts said Hester secretly recorded the two having sex. Not long after the recording was made, Roberts said Hester told her about it.

“He told me about it, like, ‘Look, I made this video of you. Isn’t it cool?’” Roberts told WRAL. “He pitched it as this sort of like, ’I’m so sneaky. I’m so clever.’”

Roberts said Hester also told her about secretly recording other women he had sex with.

“He told me about the circumstances around them because like, he was proud of it. Like it was a trophy,” Roberts said.

The videos, which were allegedly recorded in 2009 and 2010, would sometimes last for hours and include conversations between Hester and the women, Roberts said.

Roberts said she spoke out in favor of Hester being registered as a sex offender because “Jordan’s intelligence, charm, and chosen vocation combine to mask the very real danger he presents to the women around him.”

Hester was let go from Brewery Bhavana and Bida Manda in June following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct, as current and former employees went public via social media with allegations occurring at both restaurants. Co-owner Vansana Nolintha stepped away from the restaurants following the allegations.

“Very rarely are hospitality professionals given background checks, and a charming person that’s good at the job and good with customers can start over in a new place without accountability. Jordan was good at his job and he gained a great deal of power in our industry,” Roberts said.

Lauren C. Phillips, who said she was filmed without consent, cited the food and beverage industry's lack of background checks.

"The food and beverage industry, in which Mr. Hester and I have built careers, does not have a great history with background checks. Over the last 15 years I have worked for four James Beard award winning chefs and not once have I been asked to submit to a background check. It is so easy for folks with dangerous criminal histories to find employment in bars and restaurants and it happens often, for better or for worse. While this can be a helpful oversight for those who have committed lesser crimes--for those who are truly trying to turn over a new leaf, or simply ‘made some dumb mistakes as a kid’-- it also leaves open the opportunity for folks like Mr. Hester to find safe harbor and prey on those within their community," Phillips said.

In addition to Roberts and Phillips, four other women offered statements in support of Hester being registered as a sex offender.

Prosecutors also detailed allegations from seven women who reported alleged sexual assaults or harassment by Hester. Many of those women were among the 10 women who spoke with WRAL in June concerning Hester. The women told WRAL that Hester sexually harassed or assaulted them. The allegations span a more than 20 year period. Of the women who have come forward to WRAL with allegations involving Hester, four were employed at Bida Manda or Brewery Bhavana where Hester was a manager at the time.​

"I take full and unequivocal responsibility for my actions. I am deeply sorry for the suffering I've caused," Hester said to the judge prior to his sentencing.

Hester briefly apologizing before asking the judge to be merciful by not making him register as a sex offender.

"I ask the court to please consider the impact on my son and planned future children if I am forced to register as a sex offender," Hester said.

In his decision, Graham noted testimony from defense witness psychologist Mary Anne Etheridge, who evaluated Hester. Etheridge said she did not believe Hester should be in a supervisory role over women.

"When his own expert tells me that she would not want to be supervised by him, that he should not supervise women, I'm being told that he should not supervised 51.9% of the workforce in this state," Graham said. "The only reason I can conclude that that was recommended was because his own expert felt that he was a danger."

Graham also pointed to Etheridge's testimony that Hester's actions were due to his lack of self-esteem or self-worth and wanting to have control over the women involved.

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