|Wealthy Indian woman questioned about enslaving helper in 34-room NY mansion
An Indian woman accused of cheating an Indian domestic out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and keeping her a virtual prisoner at a 34-room mansion said in New York yesterday that a tape recording that appears to show she knew the woman was in the country illegally was not her voice.
Annie George, also known as Annie Kolath, repeated earlier testimony that she did not know Valsamma Mathai was in the United States illegally and that she did not mistreat her during the five-and-a-half years she worked in her New York state mansion with a helicopter pad, AP reports.
Mathai has testified that she slept in a closet, worked long days without vacation, days off or sick time and was not allowed to leave the property.
The case surfaced when Mathai's son in India, Shiju, called the National Human Trafficking Resources Center in 2011.
George is charged with harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a US$250,000 fine upon conviction.
She said the tape recording of a phone call between a woman and Shiju Mathai, which prosecutors played Wednesday, was not her voice. She did not say who she thought the voice belonged to.
On the call, the woman warns Shiju there could be dire consequences, even jail time, for his mother if she was to tell authorities about working in the United States.
George said she was left in desperate financial straits when her husband died in 2009. She said she knew nothing of his business dealings, including the arrangement to have Mathai live with them, because he severely punished her if she tried to make any decisions in the home.
Her late husband, Mathai George, was also an Indian who built a hotel and real estate development business in the United States. He was killed in 2009 along with his 11-year-old son and another man when their private plane crashed after takeoff.
In his closing arguments, defense lawyer Mark Sacco said Annie George was a traditional Indian wife and mother who deferred to her husband on all decisions and was cruelly punished if she did not.
“The government is prosecuting Annie George because Mathai George is not here,'' Sacco said.
He suggested Shiju Mathai launched the investigation because he was unhappy that his mother was sending less money home after Mathai George died.
But Assistant US Attorney Rick Belliss said Annie George was an intelligent woman with a graduate degree in pharmacy who, even if she did not directly know Valsamma Mathai's immigration status, was smart enough to figure it out.
Valsamma Mathai came to the United States legally on a visa after her husband died of cancer, leaving her the sole provider for her two sons and ailing mother. When she left the original family she was with, she was illegal because it violated the terms of the visa, Belliss said.