ST. JOSEPH — The former co-owner of a Stevensville restaurant has been bound over for trial on several counts of criminal sexual conduct and a kidnapping charge.
Raffaele Santaniello, former co-owner with his sister of Santaniello’s Glenlord Restaurant & Pizzeria, is charged with seven counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct using force or coercion, one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct using force or coercion and one count of kidnapping. He faces up to life in prison if convicted as charged.
The restaurant is permanently closed and the property has been foreclosed on.
Berrien County Trial Court Judge Angela Pasula announced Thursday she found probable cause to bind Santaniello over for trial on all charges submitted by Berrien Assistant Prosecutor and Chief Trial Attorney Cortney O’Malley. His preliminary hearing to determine probable cause concluded April 4.
Santaniello is represented by a lawyer from Ohio, Eric Zagrans, who is being assisted by St. Joseph lawyer Trevor Maveal.
Trial is set to begin Aug. 30.
Several women testified at hearings in March and April that while they were working at the restaurant, Santaniello touched them inappropriately and often made sexual comments to and about them. Pressed by Zagrans for details about when the alleged comments were made, what they were and who else was present at the time, the women said they could not recall those exact details.
The allegations against Santaniello date back to 2013, and the incidents are alleged to have occurred for years. The women said they did not come forward sooner because Santaniello claimed to be a prominent member of the community and “untouchable.” Further, they said, they needed their jobs and feared they would lose them.
One woman testified that she felt forced to perform oral sex on Santaniello when he asked her whether she cared about her job, and would like to keep it.
She said her job had previously been threatened and she was bullied after applying for work elsewhere.
In the kidnapping charge, it is alleged that Santaniello inappropriately touched a female employee as he pinned her between himself and his closed office door.
The alleged victim said she started screaming and was able to get away from Santaniello only after “screaming loud enough.”