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More Legal Trouble for Catering Company

Management of Morrell Caterers, which runs out of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, accused of pocketing $10M in tips.

In addition to allegations of tainting kosher food with non-kosher food, the management of Morrell Caterers, which operates partly out of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, is also accused of pocketing about $10 million in tips over the past six years that were supposed to go to as many as 500 employees, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday.

“The greed has to stop,” said William Cataldo, a former maitre d’ at Morrell that is part of the suit. “We were forced to give over our gratuities. We were being deceitful to the clients,” who believed an extra “service charge” listed in contracts would be going to employees.

The suit, filed by Carle Place’s Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., in Nassau County Supreme Court on behalf of former employees, alleges that Morrell Caterers’ violated New York labor law by withholding tips and gratuities totaling as much as $10 million that were required to be given to waiters, bussers, bartenders and others. Morrell runs out of three synagogues on Long Island: Temple Israel of Lawrence, Woodbury Jewish Center and Temple Beth Torah of Melville. The service charge was in catering contracts instead of cash tips that customers would give during or after an affair.

“The public would think twice about 18 percent gratuity if he or she knew the truth,” said Jeffrey Brown, partner at Leeds Morelli & Brown. “It was the ultimate deception.”

Brown said at a press conference at the law firm’s office that employees of Morrell would lose their jobs if they received cash tips. All envelopes containing cash tips were required by the caterer to be delivered to management, according to testimony from sales managers in documents filed in another lawsuit.

“This was a dictatorship,” said Lenard Leeds, managing partner at Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C. “They’ve been defrauding the staff and the public.”

Owner Scott Morrell’s attorney, Steven Schlesinger, said both suits are without merit.

“Everyone got every penny that they were entitled to, period,” he said. “I don’t know where these guys are coming from, but it’s just 100 percent not true.”

Former Morrell hostess Megan Johnson, of Great Neck, who recently quit, estimates that she is out about $100,000 over six years from missing tips.

“We were scared if we took something,” she said. “As a person, [owner Scott Morrell] didn’t have any acknowledgement or respect for the staff. The tips were never discussed.”

Morrell also faces allegations from the company’s former chef, Michael Savitsky, and general manager, Tom Cataldo, who own 20 percent of the company, that he had his employees prepare non-kosher food in the kosher kitchens and transported all the food in the same truck.

Two former employees, Michael Goldstein and Tracy Rubenstein, swore in affidavits that they witnessed the preparation of dairy and non-kosher foods at Temple Beth Torah’s kitchen. They also allege that Morrell posed lower-quality liquor as top-shelf liquor.

A rabbi with the Vaad of Flatbush, which supervises Morrell, said the company’s locations were handled appropriately for kosher food.

Beth Gold February 18, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I am blown away with everything I am reading. I had my daughters Bat Mitzvah four years ago at Temple Beth Torah. William Cataldo was the Matre d at the time. He was fabulous. I never received service like this before. I had my sons Bar Mitzvah three years prior at a different temple and could not believe how wonderful the staff at Temple Beth Torah was compared to the previous place I used. I must make mention to William, as he truly went above and beyond for us. He was a pleasure to do business with, its awful to imagine he worked so hard for generous tips and never got them. I heard he was no longer with the company, so when I read this article it truly made me realize he didnt have anything to lose by speaking up since he is not employed there anymore. I hope he gets to the bottom of this and gets all he deserves.
Morrell employee February 19, 2012 at 06:40 AM
I worked for the company. I know personally that non kosher food was cooked in that kitchen, cheap alcohol was poured into top shelf bottles, and I never received any gratuities.
Former Employee February 19, 2012 at 01:08 PM
I worked for the Morrell family as well in the early and late 90's, and where I can attest that Scott Morrell was a cold and selfish individual, I can also attest that everyone that worked there was told upon hiring that their hourly pay was all they would be receiving, and the taking of 'tips' was strictly forbidden. We all had a very simple decision to make, take the job or not. For a guaranteed $15/hr in 1993, where my friends working at restaurants made $3/hr + 'tip', it was simple, I happily took the job. Whatever they told the clients had nothing to do with me, as long as they paid my agreed wage. Now labor lawyers are involved, G-d help us all! It's my understanding that they feel we are owed a service charge, and that would bring my pay to somewhere in the $50/hr range. Not bad for a 20 something year old in the 90's. My distaste for Scott Morrell and his manager at the time, Tom Cataldo, made me decide to pack it up, and leave...and I never looked back.
Question February 19, 2012 at 01:39 PM
I too worked there in the 90's. They had a cranky old head bartender at WooburyJC, that would full name brand liquor bottles with "house pour" alchol. I once mentioned it to Scotts mom Rosa that the customer didnt like the drink. Scott called the customer w his mom, "south shore trash" and were laughing hystericaly about it. Being from Freeport i was not amused. Anyway a job was a job. They were all jerks, mom, scott,sister. ( forgot). The dad was ok but not around much. They were awful people to me. The liquor part os true and if a customet gave me cash tip(rarely) i put on my pocket and never told anyone in fear of getting firrd.
Nino August 18, 2012 at 02:18 PM
If this is true and they are found guilty,they should lose everything and it all go to the employees. As far as serving non kosher food,he must notify all the people who paid for events there and refund the money. Any residuals should go toward a charity. The shame of this is unspeakable and an act of greed , They need to lose everything.

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