ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A woman who had been charged with cheating an Indian household servant out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and keeping her a virtual prisoner at a mansion was found guilty Friday of knowingly keeping the servant in the country illegally.
Annie George had said she didn't know Valsamma Mathai was in the United States illegally. She also said she didn't mistreat Mathai during the 5 1/2 years she worked in her 20,000-square-foot home in suburban Rexford, near Albany.
Mathai had testified that she slept in a closet, worked long days without vacation, days off or sick time and wasn't allowed to leave the property, a palatial stone mansion on a cliff overlooking the Mohawk River.
George was convicted of harboring an illegal immigrant. She faces a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A federal jury handed down its decision Friday after deliberating since Thursday afternoon.
The case surfaced when Mathai's son in India, Shiju Mathai, called the National Human Trafficking Resources Center in 2011.
On Thursday, George said the tape recording of a phone call between a woman and Shiju Mathai, which prosecutors played Wednesday, wasn't her voice. She didn't 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 testified that 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 required her to stick to her duties as his wife and mother of their six children and severely punished her if she tried to make any decisions in the home.
Her late husband, Mathai George, was a native of India 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 deferred to her husband on all decisions.
"The government is prosecuting Annie George because Mathai George isn't 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 U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss said Annie George was an intelligent woman with a graduate degree in pharmacy who, even if she didn't directly know Valsamma Mathai's immigration status, was smart enough to figure it out. Belliss said Annie George even took Valsamma to an immigration lawyer once, a charge George denied.
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 illegal because it violated the terms of the visa, Belliss said.
A business associate testified Wednesday that Mathai George left six hotels, all in foreclosure or bankrupt and in poor condition. Several friends of Annie George said when they visited it appeared Valsamma Mathai was a member of the family rather than a servant, and George's children called her grandmother.
Federal prosecutors said Annie George owes Mathai $317,000, based on the minimum wage and overtime for the hours she worked. Mathai said she was paid only $26,000, much of which she sent to her family in India.