Long Island Caterer Accused of Defying Kosher Laws in Business Operations

Michael Savitsky and Tom Cataldo have sued their former catering company for improper business operations. The company purportedly served shrimp and non-kosher shellfish in kosher utensils.A Long Island caterer has been accused by two former employees of having used a kosher kitchen to prepare for non-kosher events, as well, local media have reported.

Scott Morrell, the eponym of one of Long Island’s largest catering companies, allegedly asked Michael Savitsky, a former executive chef, and Tom Cataldo, the company’s former general manager, to use the kitchen at Temple Beth Torah of Melville, Long Island, to prepare for both Jewish and non-Jewish clients. According to both men, who leveled a lawsuit against Morrell this past Tuesday, the caterer refused to secure another facility to service his non-Jewish clients due to a lack of finances. The result was that kosher silverware and facilities were also employed to serve shrimp, lobster, and pork, to non-Jewish clients, and a delivery truck used to dispatch kosher food items was similarly used for non-kosher comestibles, the former employees allegedly asserted.

“I was taken aback, but he was my boss, so what was I supposed to do?” Savitsky reminisced to reporters at a news conference held by Morrell on Wednesday in Mineola, NY. “I finally decided I couldn’t do it anymore… I just finally gave up.” While the unseemly practice was allegedly performed beginning in September 2010, the men only filed a suit this past week. According to Cataldo, both he and Savitsky owned a small percentage of the company and withheld the painful truth for fear of ruining their careers.

“We had families,” Cataldo explained. The small-scale owners were finally prompted to action because “the community needed to know what was happening.” They both resigned on Friday.

Ronald J. Rosenberg, Morrell’s lawyer, said the more than year delay served as unequivocal evidence of his client’s innocence. “What made them find God now?” Rosenberg asked. “If these people who are saying they were so moral were given these immoral orders to violate kosher rules, why now are they coming clean?” The defense alleged Savitsky and Cataldo were using their unfounded claims to hurt Morell in an unrelated court case.
“I have never violated any rules,” Morrell said. “This is a very calculated and cynical deliberate way of destroying my company.”
“This is a conspiracy,” the prominent caterer added.

While a criminal probe has been launched, Jewish patrons of the caterer have grown increasingly upset and shocked at the latest news. According to an article written by the Associated Press, more than 200 weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other events were purportedly “tainted” by the usage of impure facilities.

According to the company’s website, Morrell Caterers operates in three synagogues: Woodbury Jewish Center, Temple Beth Torah of Melville, and Temple Israel of Lawrence. While an article in the New York Times published on February 8 suggested all three kosher facilities were marred by prohibitive behavior, subsequent articles have clarified that Temple Beth Israel was the primary site of non-kosher activity. In the days following the emergence of headlines and the eruption of communal controversy, a number of rabbis researched the claims and reported their findings.
“The Lawrence operation [at Temple Israel] has both a Glatt and non Glatt operation. Only the Glatt operation is supervised by the Vaad Hakashrut of Flatbush,” explained Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere. “The Glatt ovens as well as Glatt utensils are all stored under lock and key with secured hasps when not being used. All stove tops and sinks are kashered before each Glatt job. There is also a video camera system which monitors the kitchen at all times. The Vaad of Flatbush assures us that that it is impossible for anything other than reliably kosher food to be cooked on their utensils in Lawrence.”

“In Woodbury the caterer is exclusively Glatt Kosher under the Vaad Hakashrut of Flatbush with the exact same locking system and video system,” Rabbi Billet continued. “It is impossible to use the kitchen in Woodbury unless there is a Vaad supervised Glatt Kosher job being done. There are a series of permanent Mashgichim always present when cooking is done in each place.”

The rabbi concluded his letter, which was published on Morrell Caterer’s website homepage, by informing readers of the results of his probe. “Therefore, at present, it is my opinion that the Vaad Hakashrut of Flatbush hashgacha in both Lawrence and Woodbury is trustworthy and you need not be concerned about using either place from a Kashrut point of view,” he finished.

In defense of the Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush, Rav Mahachshir Rabbi Meir Goldberg confirmed Rabbi Billet’s findings. “As a result of recent allegations concerning Morrell of Woodbury the Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush conducted its own internal investigation and concluded the claims frivolous,” a formal letter from Rabbi Goldberg began. After listing the security measures implemented to ensure adherence to kosher kitchen guidelines, the rabbi proceeded to detail his organization’s history with Morrell and the caterer’s track record in his profession.

“It is indeed unfortunate, and yes, even tragic to a degree, that unfounded allegations of kashrus violations have been made against Morrell of Woodbury,” the letter read. “It has been our experience with Mr. Morrell that he conducts his business guided only by the highest moral and ethical standards… The Vaad Hakashrus of Flatbush has stood and will continue to stand behind Morrell of Woodbury and Mr. Scott Morell.”