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What you need to know for 04/24/2017

George draws home detention

George draws home detention

Convicted in March of harboring an illegal immigrant, Llenroc owner sentenced this morning to eight
George draws home detention
Annie George and her attorney, Mark Sacco, walk into the Federal Courthouse in Albany for George’s sentencing July 9.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

The woman convicted in March of harboring an illegal immigrant in the opulent but deteriorating Llenroc mansion in Rexford was sentenced Tuesday to eight months’ confinement in that very mansion.

The judge imposed the home confinement, telling Annie George bluntly that he believes she lied on the stand during the trial.

The judge also ordered the seizure of the mansion itself, though that is expected to be stayed when George’s appeal is filed and legal issues regarding the building’s co-owners are sorted out.

Judge Gary L. Sharpe had harsh words for the mother of five as he sentenced her, saying she took the stand during the trial and “lied through her eye teeth.”

Had she not done that, Sharpe told George, he would not have added the detention component of the sentence. “You tried to hoodwink that jury,” he told her, adding that she had the right to remain silent, but not to lie under oath.

Sharpe sentenced George to a total of eight months’ home detention and five years’ probation, but no fine or jail time. The seizure of the mansion, Sharpe said, served as the fine.

The sentence was in excess of what prosecutors had asked for: home detention and only two years of probation. The defense had asked for just a fine.

George was convicted of harboring an illegal immigrant at her Rexford estate, but acquitted of the more serious charge of harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain.

The jury found that George knew or should have known that Valsamma Mathai, an Indian citizen who had lived with the family for more than five years, was an illegal immigrant.

The acquittal on the more serious charge suggested that the jury rejected the prosecution’s contention that Mathai stayed with the family as a formal servant.

The defense contended that George didn’t know Mathai was an illegal immigrant, that she was only a guest and was treated like family.

Exactly what lies Sharpe was accusing George of were not clear. He only referenced “some of the details” relating to Mathai.

Outside the courtroom after the sentencing, George’s attorney, Mark Sacco, disputed that his client lied. He said he believed the judge was referring to her testifying that her voice was not on tapes introduced at trial.

Sacco had argued that the voices on the tape, secretly recorded by Mathai’s son, were not his client’s.

George’s testimony at trial included her contentions that she never knew Mathai’s immigration status until after authorities removed her from Llenroc. She also testified Mathai was never the family’s servant, but was treated like a member of the family.

George also testified emotionally about the death of her husband, Mathai Kolath George, and her eldest son, George M. Kolath Jr., both killed in a June 2009 plane crash in the Mohawk River.

It was her husband, George testified, who handled the family’s finances and the family’s hotel business, as well as any agreements with Valsamma Mathai.

Sacco reiterated that in court Tuesday. “She was playing follow the leader with her husband,” he told the judge.

He noted the criticism that she didn’t end the situation after her husband died, but wanted the court to consider that she didn’t create it.

Sacco also tried to put the case in perspective in court, arguing it was on the lower end of the spectrum of cases that come into federal court and that his client had never before been in trouble with the law.

George gave no statement in court, or as she left.

In court, prosecutor Rick Belliss declined to make further arguments, instead resting his stance on arguments made in a sentencing memorandum filed earlier.

Among Belliss’ arguments were that George’s conduct the day Mathai was taken from the home in May 2011 and her conduct afterward showed she was making the investigators’ jobs more difficult.

Mathai told the jury that she agreed to work for the Georges in 2005 for $1,000 per month but ended up working 17-hour days without a day off.

For more than five years of work, she only received about $24,000 in pay. It was that alleged disparity between work and pay that prosecutors argued was the financial gain George received, but the jury rejected that argument.

Sacco said he expects to challenge on appeal statements the judge gave to the jury in response to jury questions, as well as evidence and proof issues.

Regarding the sentence itself, Sacco said George is obviously disappointed. He referenced the tragedy the family has gone through and George having to raise her five surviving children on her own, as well as dealing with the criminal case.

“I should say this,” Sacco said outside of court, “not a lot of people would be able to hold up under all the stress.”

Sacco said afterward that the home detention began immediately following Tuesday’s sentencing. George is to wear a location monitor to ensure she stays at the family’s home, the Llenroc mansion, for the duration of the eight months.

That is expected to continue, despite the appeal to be filed. Only the seizure of the mansion would be put on hold, Sacco said.

Llenroc, which is “Cornell” spelled backward, was built in 1990 by insurance magnate Albert Lawrence. He never made public what the mansion cost to build, but its was rumored to be roughly $32.5 million.

The 61,403-square-foot house sits on 12.5 acres facing the Mohawk River. Flooring in the mansion is Scandinavian marble and walnut inlaid hardwood, which cost an estimated $3.5 million to purchase and install — more than the entire property sold for in two subsequent sales combined.

Albert Lawrence ended up going to prison for white-collar crime involving his bankrupt insurance company, the Lawrence Group, and died of cancer in 2002 at age 73.

Joseph Costello, a commodities trader, bought the mansion the next year for $1.4 million. He put it back on the market in 2007, asking $12.9 million. Costello sold the property to Power Angels LLC for $1.9 million.

By last year, the property had fallen more than $250,000 behind in property tax payments. And George’s defense at trial contended the property was no longer the opulent place it once was. The George family owned the property and lived there, but had no money to maintain it.

Among those expected to make claims on the mansion are George’s children and her brother, Siju Augustine. All, including George, are members of a limited liability corporation called Power Angels, with George owning 10 percent.

Prosecutors, however, argue the entire mansion is subject to seizure, as George began harboring Mathai there before creation of the LLC.

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