SCHENECTADY – The owner of Thai Thai Bistro in Niskayuna has admitted to labor trafficking, Schenectady County District Attorney’s officials said.
Piyamas Demasi, 45, plead guilty to the felony charge Friday. She is to be sentenced in May to up to three years in prison. She could also get as little as five years of probation.
Prosecutors alleged that Demasi hired an immigrant from Thailand to work in her restaurant, Thai Thai Bistro. Then, after the victim began working, the owner duped the employee into paying thousands of dollars for Demasi to sponsor the victim as an expert Thai chef. That arrangement was designed to allegedly help the victim get her green card so that she would have lawful status to stay in the United States, officials said. Demasi also owns Karma Bistro, prosecutors said.
But Demasi would only sponsor the victim if the victim paid for all of the costs Demasi claimed were associated with the visa process. Demasi also required the victim agree to continue to work for the defendant for two more years after the visa process was completed, prosecutors said.
Demasi knew those conditions were illegal, prosecutors said.
After the victim made the first payments, Demasi had her work as a server, not as a chef. Demasi also stopped paying the victim wages altogether, forcing her to live off tips alone, prosecutors said.
“Despite that, the defendant nevertheless made the victim pay for legal bills related to the visa process and demanded an additional $10,000 for her efforts in sponsoring the visa application,” prosecutors wrote in a release.
The victim stopped working for Demasi in January 2018 after she was forced to work without wages or tips for a period, prosecutors said.
When Demasi did pay the victim, Demasi did so in cash and did not report the victim on her payroll or in employment filings with the state, prosecutors said.
Judge Mark J. Caruso is presiding and will hand down the final sentence. The plea agreement also includes the potential Demasi would be required to pay for an annual review by a forensic accountant of her businesses’ book and records to ensure compliance with tax and labor laws, officials said.
Demasi also agreed to make restitution of more than $8,500 to the victim and $4,000 to the state.
The case began with a complaint by the victim to the Niskayuna Police Department and now-retired Niskayuna detectives Mark Florell and Paul Hobson who contacted the district attorney’s office for assistance.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations also assisted.
Prosecutors urged anyone who is or knows someone who may be a victim of labor trafficking or illegal employment conditions or requirements to file complaints with the state Department of Labor or U.S. Department of Labor.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney commended his prosecutors William Lemon and John Carson.
“Schenectady County has a proud history of advancing and protecting the rights of workers and I see this first of its kind labor trafficking conviction as being of that tradition,” Carney said in a statement. “Ms. Demasi exploited one of today’s most vulnerable workers, an immigrant who believed that her dream of permanent residence here, in the county in which she went to high school and college, depended upon complying with the demands of her employer.
“There may be other people similarly victimized who may be afraid to come forward,” Carney added. “She bravely did and through this prosecution we were able to make her financially whole and hopefully send a signal to others facing similar extortion demands from unscrupulous employers that they should speak up.”
Demasi was represented by attorney Andrew Safranko.
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