Feds Find Indentured Servant In 34-Room Mansion
Annie George's 30,000-square-foot mansion in upstate New York includes 34 rooms, a helicopter pad, a five-story glass elevator, 15 fireplaces, 24-karat gilded gold ceilings, an indoor swimming pool shaped like a sailboat, and an indentured servant, forced to work 120 hours a week and sleep on the floor of a walk-in closet.
George appeared before a federal magistrate yesterday on charges of encouraging and inducing an illegal alien to reside in the United States. The servant, known only as "V.M." in court documents, was from the same region of India as George and her husband, Mathai Kolath George, a successful hotel developer and brother of a renowned Bollywood actor, director and producer. Mathai Kolath George died in a plane crash, along with the couple's 11-year-old son, in the summer of 2009.
V.M. first entered the U.S. in 1998 and worked as a domestic servant for a United Nations employee in the New York City area, according to the court filing. In 2005, she left this job, invalidating her visa, and began work for the Georges, who promised to pay her $1,000 a month.
The servant told federal agents that over the following 5½ years, she cooked, cleaned and cared for the Georges' five, and later six (and later five again), children from 5.45 a.m. until 11 p.m. in the evening, every day of the week. Over her entire course of employment, she never had a personal day, sick day, or doctor's appointment. She also never filled in any employment application or tax documents.
An investigation by the Department of Labor determined that V.M. should have been paid a minimum of $206,000 for her period of work. She told agents that she was actually paid $29,000 -- or 81 cents an hour. Most of the money was transferred in cash to V.M.'s son in India.
V.M. told agents that she was never able to visit her son in the half decade that she worked for the Georges. Her employers told her that she lacked the proper immigration documents. They once took her to meet with their attorney to get them, she told agents, and withheld $4,000 from her pay for the fee. V.M never got any documents.
On a tip to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, agents came to investigate the George estate in May last year. The woman who answered the door denied knowing V.M., and only after being shown a picture, admitted that she'd "seen V.M. around," according to the court filing. At that time, George had taken V.M. to the basement, and advised her to stay there. Only after V.M. had spoken to a lawyer -- one hour and 45 minutes later -- was she permitted to leave with her possessions.
Last summer, agents received, from V.M.'s son in India, recordings of three phone calls in which a woman who is almost certainly George is telling him what his mother should say to authorities. V.M. was a relative, the caller emphasized, who was staying as a guest.
"If she says anything about working, it would become a crime," the woman was recorded as saying. "They'll start adding up all the taxes and everything, for all this time."
After her appearance before a federal magistrate on Tuesday afternoon, George was released without bond.
The 12-acre Llenroc estate seems to be cursed. George's husband was trying to sell it for $30 million when he and his son tragically died in a crash into the Mohawk River. It was originally built in the 1990s, by the insurance magnate and philanthropist Albert Lawrence, before he filed for bankruptcy, went to federal jail for fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion, and was diagnosed with terminal cancer two months later.
Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin. Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.more...