Llenroc woman faces new suit
Hotel chain seeks unpaid fees for Econo Lodge site
NISKAYUNA The woman facing federal trial next month over accusations she forced an illegal alien to work under slave-like conditions is facing new troubles in federal court in the form of a lawsuit unrelated to the criminal action.
Meanwhile, the federal criminal trial remains on track to begin March 4 in Albany, with the woman’s attorney confirming in a filing last week that she is ready to stand trial.
The new lawsuit, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Albany, relates to unpaid franchise fees and trademarks used at a now-closed hotel the woman inherited from her late husband.
Choice Hotels International filed the suit Feb. 1 against Fultonville Hospitality Group and Annie George, widow of Mathai Kolath George.
It relates to the former Econo Lodge at 123 Riverside Drive in Fultonville. Choice Hotels entered into a franchise agreement with the group and Mathai George in November 2005. But, by July 2011, two years after Mathai George’s death, the group was behind $15,000 in franchise payments. Choice then demanded that money and the remaining $26,000 owed under the remaining term of the agreement.
The group failed to comply, according to the suit, and continued to use the Econo Lodge name. By November 2012, Choice learned the property had been closed and “been condemned by the county building department.” But Econo Lodge signs were still in use at the property.
A view of the property Monday confirmed signs referenced in the filing were still up, though the hotel remained closed.
Choice is alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition. They are seeking an order preventing the group from using the Econo Lodge trademarks, as well as damages including all profits, damage from infringement and award for all attorneys’ fees and other costs.
In March 2010, a bank filed papers in state Supreme Court to begin foreclosure proceedings against the motel property. It also ran into difficulty in 2009 when the town of Glen shut down its water service.
The water shutdown came after the company had failed to pay for water and sewer services several times from 2006 to 2009.
In the March 2010 filing, Fultonville Hospitality Group and several other entities and persons were named as responsible for a $1.27 million loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Fultonville property and another in Columbia County were listed as collateral.
The bank that lent the money, Unity, stated in the suit that a $9,400 monthly payment due in October 2009 wasn’t paid. The status of that suit was unclear Monday.
An attorney for Econo Lodge could not be reached Monday. No civil attorney is listed for George.
The property has been flooded multiple times in recent years, Fultonville Mayor Robert Headwell Jr. said Monday. The hotel is just outside the village’s limits.
The motel property and its grounds, close to the Mohawk River, were also once included in renderings for a Fultonville riverfront improvement plan. Some improvements are set to go ahead in the coming months with the installation of about 40 feet of docks just down Riverside Drive from the motel, allowing boaters to stop and use village businesses, Headwell said.
The motel was once the busy Poplar’s Inn. As for its future, Headwell hoped something would go in there, though he was unaware of any plans. “I’d love to see something done there,” Headwell said. “There is a boat launch there.”
In the unrelated federal criminal case against Annie George, she is to be tried on a federal indictment accusing her of harboring an illegal alien for financial gain.
George is accused of forcing the servant, who is from India and identified only as “V.M.” in court documents, to typically work more than 17 hours per day and sleep on the floor of a walk-in closet at the Llenroc mansion in Rexford. The George family moved to the mansion in 2008.
George’s criminal attorney, Mark Sacco, has said his client did not know about the servant’s immigration status, or how much she was being paid. Her late husband was the one who handled the finances, he said.
Prosecutors have alleged the servant was supposed to make about $1,000 per month. She alleged that she had been paid only $29,000 during her tenure and prosecutors allege that she is entitled to more than $200,000 in pay. She also claimed she hardly had any time off and never received medical care.
Immigration authorities stepped in when the woman’s son contacted the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, and she was removed from the mansion in May 2011.
George claimed that she did not have the funds to pay her despite receiving a $5 million life insurance settlement in 2009 after her husband, 42-year-old Mathai Kolath George, and 11-year-old son, George M. Kolath, were killed in a plane crash in 2009.
The criminal case has been delayed several times, once in August, after Annie George suffered injuries in a car accident and twice more because of prosecution scheduling conflicts.