MANHATTAN (CN) – Three women claim a cookbook writer from upstate New York hired them as au pairs, then sexually enslaved them.
Joseph Yannai, a cookbook author from Pound Ridge, N.Y., was convicted in June 2011 of forced labor, coercion, enticement and other charges related to sexual abuse.
This week his three victims – from Brazil, Hungary and France – sued Yannai and his wife, Elena Fusillo, seeking damages for slavery, sex trafficking and other charges, in Federal Court.
The complaint states: “(F)rom at least 2003 to 2009, Defendants Yannai and Fusillo engaged in a scheme to coerce and fraudulently induce young women to travel to the United States from abroad to provide labor and services. Yannai also used this scheme to sexually abuse young women.
“On information and belief, Yannai contacted young women through the world, using websites designed to match women seeking work as an au pair with families in need of such worker.
“On information and belief, Yannai and Fusillo selected women based upon their photographs and willingness to live in the defendants’ residences.”
The women say Yannai posed as a woman named “Joanna” in emails with them, after he found them on the websites aupair-world.com and greataupair.com.
“‘Joanna’ stated in emails to plaintiff that she was a young woman who previously worked as Yannai’s personal assistant,” the complaint states.
“‘Joanna’ also wrote that Yannai and Fusillo were married, had no children, and were not looking for a traditional au pair. Instead, according to ‘Joanna,’ Yannai was a businessman, involved in publishing books in the hospitality industry, who was looking for an assistant to, among other things, prepare meals and beverages, clean defendants’ residence and accompany Yannai on business trips.”
“Joanna” told them that Yannai would train them to become successful businesswomen, promised them green cards, and offered $2,000 per month for “live-out” services and $20,000 plus room and board to live in his house, the complaint states.
But when they got here, the women say, Yannai made them work 12-hour days without pay, physically abused and threatened to kill them, enforced a no-bra dress code, and controlled and monitored their contact with the outside world.
Two women say Yannai forced them to perform oral sex on him, and the third – who worked less than a week for him – says that he groped her.
They escaped after one of the women connected on the Internet with another Hungarian citizen who lived in Pound Ridge. Local police rescued the women on March 23, 2009.
After a federal jury convicted him, “The Daily Pound Ridge” quoted the town police chief as calling Yannai a “deviant” and “master manipulator.” The chief called it “the most satisfying conviction I’ve had in my 29 years in law enforcement.”
The women seek punitive damages for forced labor, slavery, sex trafficking, fraud, assault, battery, false imprisonment, breach of contract, and wage violations.
They are represented by Mitchel Karlan with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.