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I had to escape from there, says Indian servant kept as ‘slave’, at trial

Valsamma Mathai alleges she was forced to work and live in inhuman conditions.

Bureau Report

NEW YORK: An Indian woman who was kept as a ‘slave’ at a mansion in upstate New York without allegedly being paid, said in court that she was forced to work 18-hour shifts seven days a week, and a closet in the house substituted as a bedroom for her.

Valsamma Mathai told a federal jury in Albany her pathetic living conditions while she worked as a servant for Annie George in the Llenroc mansion in Rexford.

George, 40, who allegedly forced Mathai to work illegally for five-and-a-half years, is on trial in U.S. District Court charged with harboring an illegal alien for financial gain. It carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, reported the Albany TimesUnion.

“I had to escape from there,” Mathai testified through an interpreter before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gary Sharpe. “I told her many times it was too much work.”

Mathai, 49, told jurors she prepared meals, cleaned the house, ironed clothes and took care of George’s six children.

Mathai said she was not allowed to eat with the George family members; she would eat only after they finished. She said she could not leave the property or converse with the family’s friends. And while working in Llenroc, the last of three homes in which she worked for the Georges, she slept in a closet.

Mathai said she never saw a doctor or dentist during the time she worked for the family — and never took a vacation or sick day. She said once told George she was ill. George responded, “Take some Tylenol,” said the report.

The witness, who came to America in 1998, said she began serving George, her husband and their six children in October 2005. Her visa had been specifically for work as a legal live-in domestic servant in Manhattan for the family of Rahul Sur, a citizen of India and the chief of peacekeeping evaluation at the United Nations.

Mathai testified she was taking Sur’s children to school when a man approached her about a “good job with good pay.” The man spoke Malayalam, Mathai’s native tongue. She said she agreed to take the offer from the man “because he is from our country and I thought that he was a good person,” Mathai told the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss.

On cross-examination by George’s defense attorney, Mark Sacco, Mathai admitted she agreed to marry the man, reported the TimesUnion.

The lawyer asked Mathai why she suddenly stopped working for the Sur family, who she said paid her roughly $250 a month, a figure she later placed at $350. Mathai acknowledged she made the decision to leave.

“Was that not enough?” Sacco asked Mathai.

“No — that was not enough,” Mathai responded through interpreter Bhabha Padmanabhan of Chicago.

“So you left to pursue a better opportunity?” Sacco asked.

“Yes,” Mathai answered.

Mathai said she and the man drove upstate and stayed in a home in Catskill where she later met George and her husband. She never married the man, she said. George’s family warned her he was not a good person, said the report.

Mathai earned monthly wages of $1,000, which she sent to India to support her two sons. She never signed any tax forms, she testified. She eventually left the job on May 3, 2011, when federal agents, who had been tipped off, arrived at the mansion. George was later charged.

George’s businessman husband and her eldest son died in a plane crash two years earlier.

Sacco noted that Thomas George, the late husband’s brother, was battling Annie George for her husband’s estate. Sacco asked Mathai if Thomas George ever told her she could get more money because of George’s allegedly poor handling of that matter.

“No one ever said anything like that to me,” Mathai said.

Sacco noted the family hired a second servant, Shai Thomas, who quit and suggested Mathai come with her. She declined.

“Without getting my hard-earned money, I would not be leaving,” Mathai testified.

Sacco suggested to Mathai that her true motive in casting blame toward George was to stay in the U.S. as long as possible and to “get as much money from Annie George as you can.”

Mathai said: “That’s not what I have in my mind.”

When Belliss questioned Mathai again, she confirmed George still owes her around $40,000. Sacco grilled Thomas George, who took the stand following Mathai.

The defense attorney said he is unsure if the defendant, also known as Annie Kolath and Sajimol George, will testify.

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