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Thatched Cottage ex-owner, manager indicted on federal labor charges

Thatched Cottage in Centerport on Dec. 13, 2016.

Thatched Cottage in Centerport on Dec. 13, 2016. Credit: Daniel Brennan

The former owner and manager of the shuttered Thatched Cottage catering hall in Centerport have been indicted on federal forced labor and visa fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Central Islip announced Monday.

Ralph Colamussi, 61, the former Thatched Cottage owner, and Roberto Villanueva, 60, its former manager, were arrested Monday morning and charged in the court’s Eastern District in Central Islip with a six-count indictment including fraud in foreign labor contracting and fraudulent inducement of foreign workers to enter and remain in the country illegally.

Between 2008 and 2013, Colamussi and Villanueva recruited potential employees in the Philippines with “false promises of jobs with overtime pay,” and then compelled the employees to pay money back to them to qualify for visa interviews, according to the indictment. When the workers arrived in the United States, they were forced to work for lower wages than advertised, without overtime, to care for Colamussi’s relatives, and to perform repairs on the adjacent Jellyfish Restaurant, also owned by Colamussi, prosecutors alleged.

The employees were also forced to live in Colamussi’s East Northport basement and to pay high rent to sleep on mattresses lined up in a row, the indictment states. Additionally, prosecutors said the employees were told that after work, they could only return directly to the basement. If they left Colamussi’s home or spoke with anybody else, Villanueva told them the police would find them.

Villanueva is a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines and lived in Glen Head, according to court documents.

Colamussi was arraigned Monday afternoon and detained by the judge, prosecutors said. Villanueva is to be arraigned Tuesday.

“Defendants treated the Filipino nationals like part of their personal property,” Acting United States East Attorney Bridget M. Rohde wrote in a Monday bail letter requesting a permanent order of detention. “At every stage of their interaction, the defendants sought to have the Filipino nationals commit crimes or committed crimes against them.”

Rohde wrote that Colamussi and Villanueva were flight risks and a danger to the community, and that they possessed “a network of international criminal associates, including unindicted co-conspirators” who would help them flee the country.

Colamussi and Villanueva falsified documents to obtain the temporary H-2B visas for employees, and once these expired, ordered the Filipino employees to submit false applications for student visas to continue illegally working at the Thatched Cottage, according to court documents.

Workers whose visas had expired continued to live in Colamussi’s basement and work full time off the books, prosecutors alleged. If the employees complained, Colamussi and Villanueva said they would report them to immigration authorities, hurt them physically and even threatened the safety of their families in the Philippines, according to court documents. The evidence includes testimony from more than a dozen of the Filipino employees, the indictment states.

Colamussi owned the Thatched Cottage, a once-popular catering and wedding facility on State Route 25A overlooking the waterfront, for 26 years before filing for bankruptcy in January 2014. After he provided Huntington Town with engineering reports showing that the building was dangerous, the town condemned the business. It remains unused.

Before the condemnation, Colamussi allegedly asked an employee for aid in flooding the cottage and lighting it on fire. When the worker refused, Colamussi threatened the worker with a knife, according to court documents.

In December 2016, the site was sold to Hauppauge-based realty group The Crest Group for $2.8 million. Enrico Scarda, the company’s founder, could not be reached for comment.

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