Author’s Sex-Trafficking Conviction Upheld

     MANHATTAN (CN) – There was nothing unfair about proceeding with a cookbook author’s sex-trafficking trial while the defendant was recovering from a prescription drug overdose, an appeals court ruled on Thursday.
     Anticipating his imminent arrest for turning his au pairs into sex slaves, Westchester resident Joseph Yannai swallowed copious amounts of Valium on Aug. 3, 2010, the 33-page opinion states.
     The author of “The International Who’s Who of Cooks” later woke up in a hospital room where told the staff treating him that he took the pills because “I’m finished,” and that he would rather attempt suicide again than go to prison.
     Yannai appeared to deliver on that warning as his trial wound to a close on June 1, 2011, after the parties rested their cases and the judge finalized the jury instructions.
     Trial evidence had shown that Yannai posed as au pairs named “Joanna” and “Sylvia” on websites like aupair-world.com and greataupair.com to deceive women into working for him.
     But when they got here, the women said that Yannai subjected them to near-constant sexual abuse, forced them to them work 12-hour days without pay, threatened to kill them, enforced a no-bra dress code and controlled and monitored their contact with the outside world.
     Refusing to recess trial following the second overdose, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman found that the medical records showed another apparent suicide attempt and ruled that the defendant had voluntarily absented himself.
     Yannai listened in by telephone when a jury found him guilty of forced labor, fraud, immigration violations and other charges.
     He was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment two years ago.
     On appeal, Yannai insisted that he did not intend to kill himself at the time of the his second overdose, but only sleep through severe leg and back pain he said kept him awake. He argued that he had the right to be present toward the end of proceedings.
     A unanimous panel of the Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the judge had the right to be skeptical of these claims.
     “The court’s findings that Yannai’s overdose was intentional, and that his absence was voluntary and designed to disrupt the trial, were supported by the record,” Judge Randy Kearse wrote for the panel.
     Three jurors overheard press reports that Yannai committed suicide, but the appellate court found that the trial judge resolved that issue appropriately.
     “After consulting with counsel, the court questioned the three jurors who had heard of the media reports; all three said their ability to continue as fair and impartial jurors would not be affected by what they had heard,” the opinion states.
     Yannai’s lawyer Georgia Hinde did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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