No Maid of Mine, Your Honor . . . Defendant Gets Probation in Illegal Servant Case
Upstate New Yorker Annie George, 41 years old, was convicted of illegally harboring – in her mansion – an undocumented household servant for almost 5½ years. The 20,000-square-foot granite-and-stone structure, located roughly 15 miles northwest of Albany, was used as a home and as a seasonal hotel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Belliss asserted George allegedly owed an Indian woman – Valsamma Mathai – $317,000 for 5½ years’ work as a household maid. Mathai claimed she was paid only $26,000 over the same period of time, an amount largely sent to support her family in India – which left her little if nothing to live on. Furthermore, George had allegedly threatened Mathai with deportation. It was also alleged that George kept her illegally because it was cheaper than hiring someone legally.
Criminal defense attorney Mark Sacco argued that (1) because her husband (and a son) had died tragically in a 2009 plane crash, George had been forced to raise the remaining 5 children and run the mansion-hotel business singlehandedly, (2) she had no idea Mathai was in the U.S. illegally, (3) she had “inherited” that “situation” because of her husband’s death, and (4) she had no prior criminal history.
While George was acquitted of the more serious charge – keeping the victim for personal financial gain – the Court was nonetheless stern. In his sentence U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ordered the mansion forfeit (it has an estimated value of $1.9 million – of which George owns 10%), and that George serve 5 years’ probation (including 8 months home confinement).
Judge Sharpe summed up the reason for his decision: “You lied [in trial testimony] . . . and you tried to hoodwink the jury.”
Ironically (or not), this issue of truthful testimony seemed to have come to a head, during trial and jury deliberation, over a single point of evidence – a garbled tape with different voices on it. This tape had been recorded and produced by Mathai’s son (he lives in India). George had vehemently denied her voice was a part of that tape.
Immediately after sentencing, Sacco stated he would appeal both the conviction and the mansion seizure. “She’s proclaimed her innocence, so we will appeal.”
No determination was made regarding Mathai’s status as an illegal alien or if she would receive any financial compensation.
For The Blanch Law Firm this otherwise-overlooked upstate case resonates with two important, present issues.
On a regular basis around the U.S., local news items surface reporting of servants or other help – often trafficked into this country illegally – being abused by employers. So many more of these abuses go unreported. . . . Often enough, understandably, these news items provoke the sympathy of listeners.
However, what is not reported is the issue that these employers may be victims as well – victims who are innocently duped by an agency or by the help they hire. Is it possible Mathai originally provided false paperwork? One can only go so far, to check out a worker’s credentials . . . without treading on individual rights (and one’s own paranoia).
Human trafficking within the U.S. is filled with these situations. However, there seems to be little sympathy for employers who unwittingly hire illegal immigrants. Sympathy aside, a balance of understanding is needed.
The other issue is the crucial, game-changing evidence in this case – the garbled voice tape. Much had been made of it – by the prosecution, by the jury (and, it seems, by the judge). This is troubling, since there is no definitive analysis regarding voice identification – unlike handwriting analysis, which is a more exact science.
In other, more high-profile cases, such recordings have been presented as evidence as well – and it seems the willingness (or not) to accept such evidence as factual is both subjective and personal. And perhaps disturbingly . . . is more influenced by what one is willing to hear.
— Stephen Heath-Jones