Llenroc case goes to jury
ALBANY Llenroc owner Annie George could learn her fate in the illegal immigrant harboring case Friday, as the federal court jury deciding that case begins its second day of deliberations.
Those deliberations began Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Albany after both sides argued their cases, and George finished her testimony under cross-examination.
Prosecutor Richard Belliss, who is trying to prove George knew or should have known that servant Valsamma Mathai was in the country illegally, argued to the jury that there was no way she couldn’t have known Mathai’s status.
And, if George was only trying to help Mathai by giving her a place to stay, as George testified, why didn’t that help extend to finding her a job, especially since the family operated six hotels?
Mathai, who came to the U.S. to make money to send back to her two sons in India, wouldn’t have stayed at the George’s “just to hang out,” Belliss told the jury.
“Does Annie George’s version make any sense?” Belliss told the jury. “It does not.”
Defense attorney Mark Sacco portrayed his client as a traditional Indian woman who didn’t have any involvement in the family’s finances up until her husband’s death in 2009. George testified Wednesday that if she interfered, her husband would hit her and send her to the hospital.
Then, when her husband and oldest child were killed in a June 2009 plane crash, George “came unglued,” having to deal with their deaths and family and business finances that were in complete disarray.
Sacco also emphasized testimony from Mathai where she said she didn’t even know her own immigration status.
If Mathai didn’t know, “how could [George] possibly know?” Sacco asked.
It is George’s alleged knowledge of the servant’s immigration status and employment agreement that are at the heart of the government’s case.
George is accused of harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison, though she could get far less. If the jury finds George only harbored an illegal immigrant with no financial gain, they could convict on a lesser count that carries a five-year maximum sentence.
The case has included allegations that Mathai worked 17-hour days for the family every day for five and a half years. For her work, she was to be paid $1,000 per month, but only got paid about $25,000 for the entire time.
Mathai was finally taken from the home May 3, 2011, after her son, worried about her welfare, made a complaint to a human trafficking hotline. The case, though, did not end up being a human trafficking case.
Prosecutors worked this week to prove that George knew Mathai was an illegal immigrant and then concealed Mathai from detection for financial gain.
Sacco has argued that his client did not know about the servant’s immigration status or how much she was being paid because George’s late husband handled the finances.
The entire prosecution, including recorded phone calls that allegedly catch George admitting she knew Mathai’s immigration status, Sacco suggested, are part of a larger effort by George’s brother-in-law to take control of her husband’s estate.
That prosecution went after George, Sacco told the jury, because her husband is no longer here. “That’s what happened here,” Sacco said.
The jury deliberated the case for about two and a half hours Thursday afternoon, coming back with a request for portions of George’s testimony to be read back.
George testified Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, saying she never knew of Mathai’s illegal status until Mathai was pulled from the home by federal agents. She also testified Mathai was never a servant, but a woman the family took in and treated like family.
In his questioning of George, prosecutor Belliss asked her about getting Mathai a job in their hotel business. George responded that Mathai was slow to do tasks. George said she didn’t know who would hire her and expect her to be productive.
She later said she was “very surprised” to learn that Mathai, with temporary immigration status given to stay in the country for the trial, has held a job at a local hospital.
George also denied telling Mathai she’d be arrested at the airport if she tried to go to India; denied taking Mathai to an attorney to talk about getting immigration documents; and denied taking Mathai’s diary and camera.
In his closing, Belliss responded to the defense contention that George couldn’t have known Mathai’s status because Mathai didn’t know.
Belliss argued that Mathai has a 10th-grade education, while George has a pharmacy degree. George should have been able to figure it out, he said.
And the alleged conspiracy by others to make the case, Belliss said, doesn’t make sense.
Belliss also emphasized the recordings made by Mathai’s son Shiju Mathai, in the weeks after his mother was taken from the home by agents.
In the recordings, George allegedly told the son that she knew of his mother’s immigration status and that his mother told people she shouldn’t have.
George admitted in testimony to calling the son after his mother was taken, but said she did not make the calls that were on the recordings.