Filipino among two charged in NY for forced labor, visa fraud
NEW YORK — A federal judge ordered the detention of two men, one a Filipino, while they face federal forced labor and visa fraud charges in Eastern District of U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York.
Ralph Colamussi, 61, former owner of the shuttered Thatched Cottage and Roberto Villanueva, 60, the restaurant’s former manager, 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. Colamussi may have a bail hearing in the future. Villanueva, a citizen of the of the Philippines who lived in Glen Head, New York, had been ordered permanently detained at a previous court appearance.
Prosecutors and the two men’s attorneys are in early talks about potential plea deals.
An attorney for Villanueva said that more than a dozen former employees were 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 made them pay money back to them to qualify for visa interviews.
Prosecutors 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 more than a dozen witnesses prepared to testify against the two.
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.
“From start to finish, [the] defendants’ scheme violated visa laws, labor laws, anti-slavery laws and consistently mistreated the Filipino nationals,” prosecutors said in court documents.
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