April 2015 \ News \ Diaspora—USA
Indo—American loses appeal in immigrant slavery case

  • Ms Annie George

An Indian American woman, who was convicted in 2013 of harbouring an illegal immigrant at her upstate New York mansion for over five years and subjecting her to slave-like conditions, has lost an appeal to overturn the verdict. Prosecutors alleged Ms Annie George, who is originally from Kerala, forced victim Ms Valsamma Mathai, also a native of Kerala, to work 17-hour days with no time off or sick leave. Ms Mathai also alleged that she was forced to sleep in a squalid closet during what little time she wasn’t working.

A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals on March 4, 2015 also ruled the trial court judge was correct to rule that Ms George must forfeit Llenroc mansion to the federal government. Ms George’s attorneys had argued that forfeiture was an excessive penalty, but the appeals court found her interest in multimillion—dollar Llenroc, a 30,000 square foot home overlooking the Mohawk River, was about USD 100,000, substantially less than the USD 250,000 maximum fine.

Forfeiture is allowed by law in this case because Llenroc was where the crime took place for which George was convicted, harbouring an illegal immigrant. Whether Llenroc will actually be seized by the government is unclear as it is technically owned by a corporation comprising Ms George family members, with Ms Annie George as a minority shareholder. The appellate ruling includes the detail that the George family paid USD 1.88 million in 2009 for the mansion and four years later owed USD 1.78 million on the property.

During the trial officials testified Ms Mathai should have earned USD 317,144 working for Ms George but had received only USD 21,000. Prosecutors also presented tape—recorded phone calls between Ms George and Ms Mathai’s son, recorded by the son, in which Ms George admitted knowing Ms Mathai was in the country illegally and instructing Ms Mathai not to discuss her status. Ms George was sentenced to home detention and probation in 2013. In her appeal, Ms George’s attorney argued the trial judge made errors in instructions to the jury, evidence was insufficient to prove the crime for which she was convicted and the forfeiture order amounted to an excessive fine. The appeals panel rejected all aspects of the appeal, writing in its decision, “The evidence of Ms George’s intent to prevent Ms Mathai’s detection by authorities was overwhelming.”