A Medford man has pleaded guilty to several hate crime charges for picking up day laborers under the guise of giving them work but instead assaulting and terrorizing them, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office said Thursday.
Christopher Cella, 20, pleaded guilty Wednesday before Judge Steven Pilewski to charges including second-degree strangulation as a hate crime, second-degree reckless endangerment as a hate crime, two counts of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, two counts of criminal obstruction of breathing, and two counts of second-degree aggravated harassment after confessing to the crimes, the district attorney's office said in a news release.
“It is unconscionable that this defendant chose vulnerable individuals looking for work to terrorize them and assault them,” District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement. “We protect everyone in Suffolk County regardless of ethnicity, race, national origin or immigration status. We will continue to fight to keep all Suffolk residents safe."
Cella's defense attorney, Christopher Gioe, said his client is set to receive a 3½-year prison term with 5 years of post-release supervision when he’s sentenced Sept. 21.
“My client acknowledged the wrongdoing, his complicity,” said Gioe, of Hauppauge. “From the time of his arrest, he was very cooperative with police.”
Prosecutors said they used video evidence showing the defendant's vehicles, to make the arrest. In addition to Cella providing a "voluntary written confession," all three victims identified him in a photo array, officials said.
On Sept. 17, 2021, according to prosecutors, Cella picked up a day laborer at a deli in Farmingville with promises of work, but instead took the victim to a remote location, directed him to exit the vehicle and attacked him. Cella forcibly kissed the victim and put him in a chokehold, prosecutors said, before the victim broke free and escaped.
Cella went home, according to prosecutors, and switched vehicles so that he wouldn't be recognized, according to prosecutors, telling detectives, "all those Spanish people know each other."
Prosecutors said Cella then headed to a 7-Eleven in Medford, where he picked up a second victim with the promise or work. But again, according to prosecutors, Cella drove him to an isolated location, locked him in his car, and began to strangle him.
The victim struggled to breathe and lost consciousness, prosecutors said. Cella fled after a passerby came to the victim's aid.
The following day, Cella returned to the same 7-Eleven and picked up a third victim, with promises of work, according to prosecutors.
Once inside the car, Cella was speeding and driving erratically, prosecutors said. The victim pleaded for Cella to stop, but he increased his speed, prosecutors said. The victim eventually was able to put the car in park and jump out of the moving vehicle, prosecutors said.
Cella then attempted to hit the victim with his vehicle, before getting out of the car and chasing him on foot, all of it caught on surveillance video, according to prosecutors.