Is There a Culture of Complacency?

Business owner cry foul as D.A. points fingers
"There is an infrastructure put in place to facilitate this criminal activity," District Attorney Timothy D. Sini, at the microphone, said during a press conference on an Aug. 15 drug bust in Montauk. Taylor K. Vecsey

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini took a hard line with restaurant owners at a press conference last week after a major drug bust in Montauk

On one hand, he said there was no evidence that restaurant owners were involved in the racket, but, he added, “what is clear is that there is a culture of complacency among the commercial establishments in this area. There is an infrastructure put in place to facilitate this criminal activity.” 

On a video screen, he displayed photographs of five restaurants: Swallow East, 668 the Gig Shack, Shagwong Tavern, Liar’s Saloon, and O’Murphy’s Pub and Restaurant. Photos of some of the restaurants immediately appeared on websites of Newsday and The New York Post.

“We are seriously concerned that the businesses knew, or at least that some of the businesses knew, exactly what was going on, and that maybe there was a business incentive to allow this to go on. If you can get a steak dinner, a glass of wine, and a bag of coke, maybe you can attract more people than if you are just handing out hot dogs and hamburgers,” Mr. Sini said.

While he said he was not suggesting the owners had committed a crime, he made it clear that his office would get to the bottom of whether the businesses were complicit. “We want to send a very clear message: We will not allow greed to ruin our communities in Suffolk County,” he said.

At least two restaurateurs have since denied having any knowledge of what has been alleged and took exception that their businesses were called out.

Janice Kordasz, who has owned O’Murphy’s for 14 years with her husband, Chester Kordasz, said they were shocked when they heard one of their employees was arrested and that the D.A. had mentioned their business.  

“We did have someone who worked at the restaurant, who worked in the kitchen, who was arrested,” Ms. Kordasz said by phone this week of Elvin Silva-Ruiz, who is being held without bail on a high-level drug charge and is expected to be indicted this week. “We work very hard and so does our other staff,” she said. “We had no involvement, never did, never would, and there wasn’t any soliciting of drugs in our establishment,” she added, calling O’Murphy’s a family restaurant. 

She and her husband found out that Pito, as she called him, was arrested in Queens as part of a large drug bust. This was his first summer at O’Murphy’s; he lived at the former Zorba’s Inn in Montauk, in housing he paid for himself, she said. 

“Whatever he did, he did outside of work. He never went to the back door. He never had visitors at the back door. He never talked to anyone about any drugs. We’re not fools. We’re always in our kitchen,” Ms. Kordasz said. 

She was surprised by the D.A.’s stance last Thursday. “My husband and I are in our 70s,” she said. “I was totally shocked. We have nothing to do with this. I’m not surprised of all the drugs — you do hear there are drugs out here — I’m just surprised the D.A. started blaming us,” she said. 

Lawrence Kelly, an attorney who said he was retained by the owners of Shagwong, was present at the press conference last Thursday, and asked if any of the defendants had criminal records. If they did, he asserted, employers could have considered that when deciding whether or not to hire them. 

Mr. Sini acknowledged that they had no significant criminal histories and all were in the country legally. Puerto Rico, where many live for the rest of the year, is a United States territory.

When Mr. Kelly asked Mr. Sini to identify any of the individuals who had worked at Shagwong, he demurred. None of the men arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court last Thursday afternoon acknowledged working at his client’s establishment. 

“It was only after my questions at the press conference that an individual employee from Shagwong’s was arrested later that afternoon,” Mr. Kelly said, referring to the arrest of John Doherty Valentin, who was charged with seven counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, a felony. 

“This arrest of a Shagwong’s employee appeared to be, literally, an afterthought on that afternoon,” he said. 

Mr. Kelly said that Shagwong has an extensive security video system in place and tight security. “Screening for underage customers, limiting service to anyone possibly over-imbibing, limiting roughhousing, which could lead to injury, these are the anticipated risks security is employed to handle on a daily basis,” Mr. Kelly said. 

“We are willing to have discussions and review the videos from the time period of the government investigation with any investigators in a cooperative effort to learn lessons on what the restaurant/tavern could do to enhance supervision of an individual employee,” Mr. Kelly said. “If anything, with the benefit of hindsight, what does the video record show about the employee’s interactions? Is there a basis for any inference that a private business has the capability to completely screen out employee misbehavior?” he asked. 

“Until then, any statements of a culture of complacency, with regard to the management of Shagwong’s specifically, seem unfortunate,” he said. 

Owners of Liars’ Saloon, the Gig Shack, and Swallow East could not be reached by press time.