AP News

Widow questioned about servant at her NY mansion


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A woman accused of cheating an Indian household servant out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and keeping her a virtual prisoner at a mansion testified Thursday that a tape recording that appears to show she knew the woman was in the country illegally was not her voice.

Annie George repeated her earlier testimony that she didn't know Valsamma Mathai was in the United States illegally and that she didn't mistreat Mathai during the 5½ years she worked in her 20,000-square-foot home in suburban Rexford.

Mathai testified earlier 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.

The case surfaced when Mathai's son in India, Shiju, called the National Human Trafficking Resources Center in 2011.

George is charged with harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

On Thursday, she 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, repeatedly breaking down in tears on the stand Wednesday, said 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.

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 in the George household. Mathai said she was paid only $26,000, much of which she sent to her family in India.

Closing arguments at the Albany trial are expected to begin Thursday.


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