Lee, Collier restaurateur bonds out of jail on child molestation charge

Owns Thai restaurants in Naples and Fort Myers

Vann Luangamath

Vann Luangamath

— The owner of Thai Basil in Naples posted $300,000 bond Friday and was released from the Collier County jail after spending about 1 1/2 months behind bars on charges he repeatedly molested a young girl.

Vann Luangamath, 42, who also owns Thai Tamarind Restaurant in Fort Myers, walked out of the jail at 4:50 p.m., but couldn’t return to his Naples home with his live-in girlfriend because Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt barred him from staying anywhere near children under age 18.

At a bond hearing, defense attorney Jerry Berry turned over Luangamath’s American passport.

Berry had sought a $50,000 bond, telling the judge the restaurateur had strong ties to the community and had lived in Florida for 22 years.

Berry cited his assets, which include the Naples restaurant on U.S. 41 North and the one in Fort Myers — which he valued at $350,000 — and 20 acres in North Florida he bought 2 1/2 years ago for $85,000.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Maresca sought a $500,000 bond, citing those substantial assets and arguing that Luangamath faces a maximum of life in a state prison if convicted of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child less than 12.

“He admitted the crime,” Maresca told the judge, urging him not to allow Luangamath to return to his home because there are children there — his 9-year-old son and his girlfriend’s two girls and a boy, ages 13 to 15.

Berry argued against such a high bond, adding, “In today’s financial climate, it’s very difficult to borrow against property.”

Hardt set bond after agreeing the evidence was strong and weighing it against Luangamath’s ties to the community and his assets. He also noted that he had no criminal record, only a 1991 DUI arrest. He barred him from contacting the girl or the woman she lives with.

Due to the sexual nature of the crime, the Daily News is not identifying the young girl.

Standing before the judge in his orange jail uniform, Luangamath, through a Laotian interpreter, told the judge he’d have to find a place to stay near his Fort Myers restaurant. His girlfriend, whom Berry identified as his common-law wife, also spoke to the judge.

Luangamath was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 16 and had been held without bond. His arrest report gives the following account:

The state Department of Children and Families contacted the Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 2 about allegations of inappropriate touching. Two days later, the girl, whose age wasn’t released, was taken to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County and told an investigator there that beginning on Feb. 20, 2007, Luangamath touched her genital area and reached inside her underwear several times while she was sleeping at his home.

She said she recognized his cough and opened her eyes and saw him.

Detective Amy Locasto called Luangamath and he agreed to take a polygraph exam on Sept. 16 at the Sheriff’s Office.

When sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Walters, the polygraph examiner, asked if he’d ever touched the girl, the machine showed he wasn’t being truthful. Once the lie-detector test was over, Scott asked why he wasn’t being truthful, but Luangamath’s statement admitting what he did was deleted from a report.

Deputy Zachary Ewert of Collier’s Major Crimes Bureau later read him his Miranda rights and arrested him. He was then booked into the jail.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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