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Suspects in Thatched Cottage forced labor case appear in court

Thatched Cottage located at 445 East Main St.

Thatched Cottage located at 445 East Main St. in Centerport on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Credit: Thatched Cottage located at 445 East Main St. in Centerport on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

The two men facing federal forced labor charges from mistreating workers at the Thatched Cottage event facility in Centerport continue to discuss plea deals, according to federal prosecutors.

Former Thatched Cottage owner Ralph Colamussi and former manager Roberto Villanueva are charged with six counts, including forced labor, fraud in foreign labor contracting, visa fraud and conspiracies to commit forced labor. Both men are being held without bail.

U.S. prosecutors have said from 2008 to 2013, the pair lured workers from the Philippines — where Villanueva is a citizen — to Long Island with promises of lucrative work at the Thatched Cottage, only to pay them less than what they were promised and forced the workers to pay them to qualify for visa interviews and fraudulently obtain work visas.

The recruited workers were also forced to care for Colamussi’s relatives and live on mattresses in the basement of his East Northport home. If the workers 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.

The Thatched Cottage has been closed since 2014 when Huntington officials condemned the property. Colamussi owned the facility for 26 years before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2014.

Colamussi and Villanueva appeared in U.S. Magistrate Kathleen Tomlinson’s court in Central Islip Friday for administrative reasons.

Villanueva’s attorney Edward Jenks of Mineola told Tomlinson that he will be joining Colamussi’s attorney Anthony LaPinta’s request for Assistant United States Attorney Charles Kelly to release evidence.

“I have requested the Government to exchange all relevant documents in their possession regarding the criminal allegations, and to particularize the acts that each person is alleged to have committed in the indictment,” Hauppauge-based LaPinta said in a statement after the court appearance. “These requests are necessary to effectively defend the charges.”

Kelly told Tomlinson that “we have had numerous plea deal discussions” with both defendants and that the discussions were ongoing.

Their next court date is March 16 in front of Judge Denis R. Hurley.

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