A woman, who is on trial for allegedly keeping an Indian immigrant as slave in her mansion in upstate New York, told jurors that her late husband made every important decision during the time she allegedly forced her former employee to work as an illegal servant.
Annie George, 40, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted in US District Court of harbouring an illegal alien for financial gain.
Federal prosecutors say George's ex-servant, Valsamma Mathai, 49, from Kerala worked illegal 17 to 18 hour shifts with no time off and no sick leave in three homes for the Georges, the last being the 30,000-square-feet Llenroc mansion in Rexford, where she slept in a closet.
The testimony about alleged domestic abuse could be key to George's defense as it could lead jurors to conclude George had no role in deciding to employ the servant.
George also testified she treated her former worker like "family" -- and kept her from living in squalor in India.
Prosecutors say Mathai's visa, issued to her in 1998, allowed her to work for her previous employer in Manhattan -- not George's family, for whom she ended up working for five-and-a-half years, Timesunion.com reported.
George, who moved to America in 2001, repeatedly broke into tears when testifying about her late husband, Mathai Kolath George, who was killed along with the couple's eldest of six children, George Kolath, in a private plane crash in the Mohawk River in June 2009.
George said the death of her husband crushed her emotionally and financially; he owned six motels, all of which are now closed, bankrupt or in foreclosure. She said she constantly deals with creditors and nonstop pressure from in-laws.
Under further questioning from her attorney, Mark Sacco, George's voice shook as she reluctantly revealed the abuse from the man she wed in an arranged marriage.
"Were you allowed to make any significant decisions?"
"No," George replied.
"Were you ever hit?" Sacco asked.
"Yes," George replied.
"If I ever interfere in his decisions," George answered, crying.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss objected to the line of questioning, telling Chief US District Court Judge Gary Sharpe it was an obvious attempt by the defence to elicit sympathy from the jury. Sharpe did eventually cut off Sacco from continuing to show the wife's state of abuse.
George said she never knew Mathai did not have a visa. George said Mathai was never given a list of assignments to do and had her own bedroom in the first two homes in which she worked.