Indian-American woman found guilty of harbouring illegal Indian immigrant in US

Last Updated: Sat, Mar 09, 2013 11:40 hrs

New York: An Indian-American woman, who had been accused of keeping an Indian immigrant as a slave in her mansion here, was on Friday found guilty of harbouring an "illegal alien".

Annie George, 40, who owns the Llenroc Mansion home near New York state's capital, Albany, was found guilty of one count of harbouring an illegal alien. She was found not guilty of the stiffer charge of harbouring an illegal alien for financial gain.

George was accused of keeping Valsamma Mathai from Kerala as slave in her mansion.

The 12-member jury announced the unanimous decision after a day and a half of deliberations, The Saratogian, a local newspaper reported.

Prosecutors claim that Mathai was used as a domestic, cook and babysitter by the family for up to 17 hours a day, seven days a week from October 2005 through May 2011. The government claimed her agreed-upon salary was USD 1,000 per month.

Mathai said she was paid only USD 26,000, much of which she sent to her family in India. But because the jury didn't find George guilty of keeping Mathai for financial gain, the original charge, she won't be liable for the wages, said George's lawyer, Mark Sacco.

George faces up to five years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced July 9. She could also receive up to USD 250,000 in fines and lose her ownership stake in the mansion. She is currently free on bail.

Neither George nor her family and friends who were in the courtroom showed any emotion as the verdict was read.

Mathai was not present in court but testified earlier this week that she felt she was a prisoner in the mansion.

George had said she didn't know Mathai was in the US illegally. She also said she didn't mistreat Mathai during the 5 1/2 years she worked in her home.

The trial, which began on Monday, centered on the May 3, 2011, removal of Mathai by agents of the US Department of Homeland Security Investigations.

George was arrested in February 2012 for harbouring Mathai for 5-1/2 years at three different homes and using her as a servant for personal gain.

George's husband, Mathai Kolath George, and her eldest son were killed in a plane crash in 2009.

After the verdict, Sacco said his client was devastated by the verdict. He said George was focused on taking care of her five children and feels somewhat vindicated from the charge she was mistreating someone.

"We're disappointed," Sacco said.

In a statement, US Attorney Richard Hartunian said, "This case demonstrates our commitment to investigate and prosecute those who harbor illegal aliens.

On Friday, 40-year-old Annie George told jurors that her late husband made every important decision during the time she allegedly forced her ex-employee Valsamma Mathai to work as an illegal servant.

Federal prosecutors say Annie's ex-servant Mathai, 49, from Kerala worked illegally for 17 to 18 hour shifts with no time off and no sick leave in three homes for the Georges, the last being the 30,000-square-feet Llenroc mansion in Rexford, where she slept in a closet.

Annie also testified she treated her former worker like "family" and kept her from living in squalor in India.

Prosecutors say Mathai's visa, issued to her in 1998, allowed her to work for her previous employer in Manhattan -- not Annie's family, for whom she ended up working for five-and-a-half years, Timesunion.Com reported.

Annie, who moved to America in 2001, repeatedly broke into tears when testifying about her late husband, Mathai Kolath George, who was killed along with the couple's eldest of six children, George Kolath, in a private plane crash in the Mohawk River in June 2009.

Annie said the death of her husband crushed her emotionally and financially; he owned six motels, all of which are now closed, bankrupt or in foreclosure. She said she constantly deals with creditors and nonstop pressure from in-laws.

Under further questioning from her attorney, Mark Sacco, Annie's voice shook as she reluctantly revealed the abuse from the man she wed in an arranged marriage.

Assistant US Attorney Rick Belliss objected to the line of questioning, telling Chief US District Court Judge Gary Sharpe it was an obvious attempt by the defence to elicit sympathy from the jury. Sharpe did eventually cut off Sacco from continuing to show the wife's state of abuse.

Annie said she never knew Mathai did not have a visa.