New York millionaire goes on trial for enslaving servant

Prosecutors allege Annie George paid an Indian servant table scraps and forced her to work 18-hour days and sleep in a closet for more than five years.

An Indian woman testified in federal court Tuesday that a New York millionaire forced her to work slavish hours against her will for five-and-a-half years, according to court documents.

Valsamma Mathai, speaking through an interpreter, told jurors how Annie George, also known as Annie Kolath, demanded that she work 18-hour shifts, with no days off, performing domestic work in George's 34-room mansion in Rexford, N.Y., and other family properties in the area, the Albany Times Union reported.

 

New York socialite accused of keeping slave goes to trial

New York socialite accused of keeping slave goes to trial
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"I had to escape from there," Mathai, 49, told judge Gary Sharpe. "I told her many times it was too much work."

If convicted of harboring an illegal alien for financial gain, George, 40, could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. George was previously indicted for employing Mathai against her will last summer, but the case was thrown out when Sharpe agreed with George's defense attorney, Mark Sacco, that the government had violated the Speedy Trial Act by not bringing the case against George to trial within 70 days. Proceedings began Monday in the retrial.

Mathai said in court she was given no sick or vacation days and was forced to sleep in a closet next to the beds of George's six children. She was not allowed to eat with the family or leave the property, and when she once complained of illness, George advised her to take some Tylenol.

Mathai, who moved to the United States in 1998, began working for the George family in 2005 when a man who spoke her native Malayalam language offered her a paying job. At the time, Mathai was working legally as a live-in domestic servant for a U.N. diplomat in Manhattan. According to the Times Union, she trusted the man because she believed he was affiliated with her church and drove north with him to the Georges.

She left without her passport or visa. At the time, Mathai was allowed to legally work only for the Manhattan family. According to the 2011 indictment, the Georges never attempted to gain legal documentation for Mathai's services.

Court documents obtained by The Smoking Gun indicate that George's husband, real estate developer Mathai Kolath George, offered Mathai $1,000 a month for her domestic services in 2005. Of the nearly $67,000 she was owed for five-and-a-half years of work, Mathai said she was paid only $29,000. The Georges also deducted $4,000 from Mathai's pay, which they told her was being taken out to procure legal documents for her. Mathai said she never received any documents or follow-up from the immigration attorney. The husband and his son, George Kolath Jr., died in a plane crash over the Mohawk River in 2009.

According to the 2011 indictment, the Georges failed to pay Mathai almost $40,000 of her owed wages and made excuses when Mathai asked them about the missing money. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division reveals that at a minimum, George owes Mathai $77,000 for her services from 2009 to 2011, and $206,000 for the complete time she spent in their employ.

Mathai was removed from the Georges' home in May 2011 when her son in India tipped off the National Human Trafficking Resource Center that she was being abused and held against her will. He had made repeated inquiries to George about more money, and she later suggested that he tell investigators Mathai was a family member of the Georges and not a domestic worker for them, because if anything was said about "working," it would “become a big crime," according to court documents.

Mathai told investigators that she did not seek to leave the George estate because the family owed her so much money. In court, according to the Times Union, George's defense team has contended that she was a "happy" servant who enjoyed living at the estate. The team said she earned more money and spoke to her family more often in Rexford than she did while working in Manhattan.  

The defense also noted that Mathai Kolath George's brother, Thomas George, is battling Annie for possession of the late man's estate. The defense asked Mathai if she was approached by Thomas George and promised more money if she spoke out against Annie.

If Annie George is convicted, her estate will be forfeited. The home was originally built by disgraced former insurance magnate Al Lawrence in the early 1990s. Lawrence, according to The Business Review, was convicted in 2000 of fraudulently mishandling $37 million in company money.

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