NISKAYUNA – The owner of the now-closed Thai Thai Bistro in Niskayuna was sentenced Wednesday by Schenectady County Court Judge Mark Caruso to five years probation after pleading guilty to labor trafficking.
Piyamas Demasi, 45, pled guilty on March 11 to the top count of labor trafficking, a felony, one of the 13 charges on which she was indicted.
As part of her sentencing Demasi must complete 250 hours of community service and pay to have her books audited to ensure she has properly recorded the employees working for her, said Andrew Safranko, her attorney. He said she also had to pay around $8,500 to the victim, $3,400 to the state department of taxation and finance and over $400 to the state Department of Labor.
Prosecutors said 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 allegedly designed to 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 sponsor the victim only if the victim paid for all of the costs Demasi claimed were associated with the visa process. Demasi also required that the victim agree to continue to work for the defendant for two more years after the visa process was completed, prosecutors said.
After the victim made the first payments, Demasi assigned her the job of server, rather than chef. Demasi also stopped paying the victim wages altogether, forcing her to live off tips alone, prosecutors said.
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 paid in cash and did not report the victim as an employee on her payroll or in employment filings with the state, prosecutors said.
District Attorney Robert Carney said documents showed that another person from Thailand also associated with this case was seeking a green card. However, the district attorney’s office couldn’t conduct an investigation regarding that person because they returned to Thailand, Carney said.
Safranko said he and his client are happy the judge imposed the minimum sentencing. The maximum sentencing was up to three years in prison. Safranko said Demasi has not committed other crimes, came to the country with nothing and created her own American dream.
“This one mistake should not define the person she is,” he said.
During sentencing Safranko submitted numerous letters of support for Demasi that referenced her good character and lack of criminal history, according to a press release from the district attorney’s office.
Assistant District Attorney William Lemon argued that incarceration was appropriate given the “defendant’s systematic ongoing course of fraudulent conduct in which she financially exploited the victim” and not a lapse in judgment, states the release. Lemon also said that Demasi should have been placed in jail for at least two weeks, as it was the same amount of time Demasi made the victim work for free and would deter others from committing such crimes.
“Judge Caruso stated that it was his judgment that five years of probation was sufficient to deter others from engaging in this crime,” the release states.
The judge also granted Demasi the ability to keep her liquor license.
Carney said his office will continue to prosecute such cases, reiterating statements he made at the time of arraignment.
“Labor trafficking is an assault on basic human dignity, it deprives the government of taxes owed and confers an undeserved competitive advantage on the perpetrator,” Carney had said.
The Thai Thai Bistro in Niskayuna closed at the end of April. Safranko said his client has been looking at locations in both Schenectady and Saratoga with hopes to open a new restaurant by next summer.
Carney said anyone who is or knows someone who could be a victim of labor trafficking or other illegal employment conditions should contact the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, by texting “Help” to 233733, emailing the organization at [email protected] or chatting online with someone at https://humantraffickinghotline.org/chat.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at SB_DailyGazette.