Former Thatched Cottage owner accused of exploiting workers

Posted: Updated:
CENTERPORT -

The former operators of the well-known Thatched Cottage catering venue allegedly lured workers from the Philippines with false promises of overtime pay, according to federal prosecutors.

Investigators say former owner Ralph Colamussi and former manager Roberto Villanueva also forced the immigrants to pay them back with thousands of dollars in their own wages to qualify for visa interviews.

They allegedly victimized dozens of workers, hired as waiters and cooks, between 2008 and 2013. The victims received low or no wages, according to prosecutors.

They say Colamussi forced them to live in the basement of his East Northport home and work for him off the books.

According to court papers, when the workers complained, Colamussi "repeatedly threatened them with physical violence or deportation."

In one instance detailed in court, a worker refused to help Colamussi burn down the Thatched Cottage building, so the owner allegedly threatened him with a knife.

After the victim fled, prosecutors say Colamussi called him and threatened to kill him.

No one answered the door at Colamussi's house Monday night, but the lights were on when News 12 Long Island knocked on the door. They shut off shortly after the news crew left.

Neighbor Syed Abbas says the accusations are despicable.

"It's like kind of slavery, you know, working for him and not giving them pay," Abbas says. "It's like slavery."

Colamussi has pleaded not guilty to charges of forced labor and visa fraud. Prosecutors say they have at least a dozen victims ready to testify against him.

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