The Hempstead man whose immigration status became a cause célèbre among immigration activists after he was detained delivering a pizza at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn in June was arrested Friday and charged with criminal mischief after a domestic altercation, authorities said Monday.
Pablo Villavicencio, 35, a married father of two from Ecuador who the federal government said illegally entered the United States in 2008, became a symbol of the national immigration debate this summer when he was detained after a background check performed while he was delivering the pizza showed his status.
A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney's office said Villavicencio pleaded not guilty Saturday to a charge of criminal mischief, stemming from a domestic incident. A criminal complaint said that while arguing on Thursday with his wife, Sandra Chica, he pushed her against a wall and "slapped her body." When she said she was going to call the police, the complaint said he took her cellphone from a kitchen counter.
She went the next day to Hempstead police to complain about him keeping her phone.
He is not charged with assaulting his wife, but with preventing her from making an emergency call. The complaint said that when police arrived, officers found her cellphone in the pocket of his shorts.
In a statement to police signed by Chica, she said the argument began when he demanded the passports for the couple's two young children. He wouldn't tell her why he wanted them, so she said she would get them later.
"This made Pablo very angry," she said in the statement. "He has been increasingly angry since I told him I wanted a divorce."
Villavicencio's attorney, Bruce Barket of Garden City, said he expected the couple's marriage to endure this period of turbulence caused by his detention and the subsequent prohibition against him working. Barket also said the charge likely will be dismissed at some point.
"They still care about each other and love each other a great deal," Barket said. "They are under an unbelievable amount of stress."
Villavicencio was held in the county jail on bail of $500 bond or $250 cash. He is due in court Tuesday.
The Legal Aid Society of New York City, which represents Villavicencio on his immigration issues, said in a prepared statement: “The past several months, including Pablo’s detention and threats of imminent deportation, have been traumatic for the Villavicencio family. We are hopeful that this matter will be resolved and that Pablo will secure valid status with the continued assistance of our counsel.”
Earlier this year, after being detained for more than 50 days, a federal judge ordered Villavicencio released from immigration detention and stayed his deportation.
Villavicencio should be freed and allowed to stay in the United States while pursuing legal residency based on his marriage to Chica, a U.S. citizen, said U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty.
“Although he stayed in the United States unlawfully — he has otherwise been a model citizen,” Crotty wrote. “He now has two children, both of whom are United States citizens. He has no criminal history. He has paid his taxes. And he has worked diligently to provide for his family.”
"Thank God for the opportunity for my life, for my daughters, for my wife," he said as he returned home in July.
“I love this country," he said outside his home. “This is the best country in the world."
He had been subject to a removal order since 2010, but began the process of seeking to legalize his status in February, and Crotty said he had a right to stay with his family while pursuing it.
“The government’s deportation of petitioner would contravene that right,” the judge wrote.