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Federal judge orders former owner of Thatched Cottage detained

Ralph Colamussi, former owner of Thatched Cottage in

Ralph Colamussi, former owner of Thatched Cottage in Centerport, was ordered detained Tuesday while facing federal charges, including forced labor. Credit: Ed Betz / Daniel Brennan

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the former owner of the shuttered Thatched Cottage detained while facing federal forced labor and visa fraud charges in Eastern District of U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Ralph Colamussi, 61, and the Thatched Cottage’s former manager, Roberto Villanueva, 60, are charged with six counts, including forced labor, fraud in foreign labor contracting, visa fraud and conspiracies to commit forced labor.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Judge Denis R. Hurley on Tuesday extended the detention of Colamussi without bail for the duration of the trial. He has the right to apply for a bail hearing in the future, though his attorney declined to do so Tuesday.

Villanueva, a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines who lived in Glen Head, had been ordered permanently detained at a previous court appearance.

Prosecutors said they are in early talks with attorneys for both men about potential plea deals.

A public defender representing Colamussi declined to comment Tuesday.

Edward Jenks, a Mineola-based attorney representing Villanueva, said Tuesday that his client has more than a dozen former employees willing to testify to Villanueva’s character and kindness as an employer.

The Thatched Cottage has been closed since 2014, when Huntington officials condemned the property on the waterfront along State Route 25A in Centerport. Colamussi owned the facility for 26 years before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2014.

According to the indictment, Colamussi and Villanueva recruited potential employees in the Philippines between 2008 and 2013 with “false promises of jobs with overtime pay,” and then compelled the employees to pay money back to them to qualify for visa interviews.

Prosecutors have said they have “overwhelming evidence, including a “wealth of documents” that were signed by Villanueva and Colamussi or used by them to get Philippine nationals to come to the United States and fraudulently obtain work visas. Prosecutors also said they have more than a dozen witnesses prepared to testify.

According to the indictment, employees worked for pay lower than promised, went without overtime compensation and were required to do chores outside the scope of their jobs — including caring for Colamussi’s relatives and repairing the adjacent Jellyfish Restaurant, also owned by Colamussi.

Their living conditions, according to the indictment, consisted of mattresses lined up in the basement of Colamussi’s East Northport home. Workers were required to return to the basement immediately after work.

If the employees complained, left Colamussi’s home or made contact outside of their work, Colamussi and Villanueva threatened to report them to immigration authorities, hurt them physically and threatened the safety of their families in the Philippines, according to court documents.

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