Judge: Llenroc subject to seizure
Corporation that owns mansion could challenge forfeiture
ALBANY The government’s effort to seize the iconic Llenroc mansion as part of the penalty in the illegal immigrant harboring case of Annie George cleared a hurdle Thursday with a judge’s ruling.
In Thursday’s ruling, issued by Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe, the judge found that the mansion was, indeed, subject to forfeiture.
The fate of the Rexford mansion, though, is expected to still be an issue for some time, with the LLC that officially owns it able to challenge the seizure.
Related to the criminal case itself, Sharpe also ruled against defense motions for acquittal and a motion for a new trial, finding the proof was legally sufficient to sustain the conviction.
That part of the ruling clears the way for George’s sentencing, scheduled to take place July 9.
George was convicted in March of harboring an illegal immigrant at her Rexford estate. The jury, though, acquitted her on the more serious charge of harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain.
The jury found that George knew or should have known that Indian citizen Valsamma Mathai, who had lived with the family for more than five years, was an illegal immigrant.
The acquittal on the more serious charge suggested that the jury rejected the prosecution’s contention that Mathai stayed with the family as a formal servant.
She faces up to five years in federal prison at her sentencing, as well as a $250,000 fine.
A prosecution submission last week, though, carried their recommendation that George receive no jail time.
Prosecutors are recommending George be sentenced to a total of eight months of home detention and 200 hours of community service. They are also recommending two years of probation and a $20,000 fine.
The final sentence is to be up to Sharpe.
Regarding the mansion, the prosecution is seeking to seize it as George was convicted of using it to help harbor Mathai.
George defense attorney Mark Sacco made several arguments against forfeiture, including that prosecutors failed to prove the connection with the mansion, that George is not the owner and that taking it would be an injustice.
Sharpe focused on another defense argument, that seizing the mansion would be amount to an excessive fine.
He noted the maximum monetary fine, compared with the value of the home. It was purchased in 2009 for $1.8 million.
“On balance, however, forfeiture is not grossly disproportional to George’s offense,” Sharpe wrote.
He noted that the property’s value itself, “while significant, is, as conceded by George, ‘dubious’ given that it is out-dated and in disrepair.”
Sharpe then directed the government to submit a proposed preliminary order of forfeiture.
But, exactly who owns the mansion and whether it could ultimately be seized is expected to be the subject of continuing litigation.
The mansion is officially owned by Power Angels, a limited liability corporation consisting of George, her five young children and Siju Augustine, the brother of her deceased husband. George owns only 10 percent of the corporation, with the others holding equal shares of 15 percent.
Prosecutor Richard Belliss has argued that the harboring predated the forming of the LLC, and therefore, that the entire home is subject to forfeiture.
Sharpe noted that the defense raised the ownership issue at this stage to preserve it for later argument.
Officials have said any innocent party with an interest in the property would have the chance to be heard in court.
If the mansion ultimately does come into the government’s hands, it is expected to be put up for auction or sale.
Llenroc, which is “Cornell” spelled backward, was built in 1990 by insurance magnate Albert Lawrence. He never made public what they paid to build the mansion, but its total cost to build was rumored to be roughly $32.5 million.
The 61,403-square-foot house sits on 12.5 acres facing the Mohawk River. Flooring in the mansion is Scandinavian marble and walnut inlaid hardwood, which was estimated to cost $3.5 million to purchase and install, a figure that is more than the entire property sold for in two subsequent sales combined.
Albert Lawrence ended up going to prison for white-collar crime involving his bankrupt insurance company, the Lawrence Group, and died of cancer in 2002 at age 73.
Joseph Costello, a commodities trader, bought the mansion the next year for $1.4 million. He put it back on the market in 2007, asking $12.9 million. Costello sold the property to Power Angels LLC. The selling price — $1.9 million — was far less than what Costello originally asked.
By last year, the property had fallen deeply behind in property tax payments. A year ago, payments were behind more than $250,000.