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US woman gets probation in illegal maid case

July 9, 2013

ALBANY, New York (AP) — A hotelier’s widow was sentenced Tuesday to five years’ probation, including eight months of home confinement, for keeping an Indian woman in the country illegally.

Annie George was convicted in March of harboring the household servant illegally at her stone mansion in rural Rexford northwest of Albany. She was acquitted of keeping the woman for financial gain, though prosecutors alleged she owed Valsamma Mathai $317,000 for 5 1/2 years of work. Mathai said she was paid only $26,000 that was mostly sent to her family in India.

U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe also ordered George to forfeit the 20,000-square-foot (6,096-meter) mansion as a financial penalty. He imposed a harsher sentence on the 41-year-old woman than either defense or prosecutors requested because she lied in her trial testimony, he said.

“This is not the crime of the century. Even more so, the jury acquitted you of the most serious charge,” Sharpe said. He acknowledged the difficulties she’s facing raising five children and that she has no criminal history, but he said her testimony aggravated him. “You lied about some of the details and you tried to hoodwink the jury,” he said.

George declined to make a statement in court or comment to reporters afterward.

Defense attorney Mark Sacco, who requested only a fine and no home confinement, said afterward that he’ll appeal both the conviction and the mansion seizure.

“She’s proclaimed her innocence so we’ll appeal the case,” Sacco said. The issue of truthful testimony came from a garbled tape with different voices on it, produced by the maid’s son in India, and George denied it was her voice, he said.

She didn’t initially hire the maid and was left with the situation after her husband and oldest son died in a 2009 plane crash, he said.

Authorities estimated the mansion’s value at $1.9 million and his client owns about 10 percent, Sacco said.

George was to begin serving the home confinement sentence immediately, Sacco said, and the mansion seizure will be halted during the appeal process.

George could have faced a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Federal prosecutors recommended eight months of home detention, 200 hours of community service, two years of probation and a $20,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Belliss in court papers said George deserved a harsher penalty under federal guidelines than the defense sought because she tried to obstruct investigators in 2011. While knowing her servant was in the U.S. illegally, George kept her even after her husband died because it was convenient and probably cheaper than hiring someone legally, he wrote.

Sharpe agreed, saying the obstruction also reflected trial testimony.

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