A 19-year-old man who prosecutors said separately lured three Hispanic day laborers to his vehicle in Farmingville last month with promises of work before attacking them because of their ethnic origin, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a crime indictment of hate.
Court officials detained Christopher Cella after State Supreme Court Justice John B. Collins set bail that included a $ 75,000 cash option and ordered Selden’s man to undergo an examination. mental health immediately in jail.
The Suffolk District Attorney’s Office said Cella faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of second-degree strangulation as a hate crime, the top count against him. He also faces charges that include felony assault, unlawful imprisonment, and reckless endangerment such as hate crimes.
Prosecutor Sheetal Shetty told the judge that Cella “gave a written confession detailing his crimes” in which he included that he “hated illegal Spaniards.”
Shetty added: “He said he wanted to do this to the Spanish because they would always speak [expletive] about him when he worked with them because he was a white man. “
Cella’s attorney, Richard Toscani, told the judge that his client was a lifelong Suffolk resident who lives with his parents and is in outpatient treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.
“There are some potential mental health issues at this point that my client is suffering from that need further investigation,” added Hauppauge’s defense attorney, who declined to comment after court.
Law enforcement officials said the attacks occurred on September 17 and 18.
In the first episode, Cella allegedly picked up a 52-year-old hired hand from Holbrook near the La Placita deli in Farmingville on September 17. After promising him employment, Cella drove to an abandoned construction site, forcibly kissing the victim and putting him in a chokehold before he could escape, according to authorities.
They said Cella then went home, changed vehicles and picked up a 60-year-old Medford laborer at a 7-Eleven in Farmingville after offering him a job. Cella then took the man to a secluded side street near a Medford condo complex, locked him in his vehicle and began strangling him unconscious before a civilian intervened and Cella fled, authorities said.
In the third alleged attack, Cella returned to the 7-Eleven on Sept. 18 and picked up a 47-year-old laborer from Brentwood, according to authorities. They said Cella sped off and the victim pleaded with him to stop the vehicle before the man could grab the gear stick, park the vehicle and escape.
Cella then allegedly made a U-turn and drove directly toward the victim before exiting and chasing the man on foot, a sequence that prosecutors said was captured on video.
A civil witness took a photo of Cella’s license plate “and that ultimately led to an arrest,” Shetty also said in court.
Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini condemned the attacks at a press conference in Riverhead after Cella’s arraignment.
“The victims were simply looking for work, but instead they were kidnapped and assaulted. And for what reason? According to the defendant himself, because they were Hispanic,” said Sini, who established a Task Force on Hate Crimes in his office in March.
“Due to the actions of this defendant, these victims and other day laborers may fear for their safety when they are simply trying to get to work in the morning,” the district attorney said.
Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron praised the police work that led to the arrest of Cella, calling him “a very dangerous individual.”
Cella, who also has a pending weapons case in Brooklyn, is due to return to court on November 5.