NEW YORK - Joseph Yannai, author of "The International Who's Who of Cooks" (2004-2005), was found guilty of forced labor and attempted forced labor on Friday following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to court documents, Yannai, 66, enticed women to travel to the United States from abroad so that he could commit sex crimes against them. A federal jury also found Yannai guilty of fraud in labor contracting and several immigration violations relating to his recruitment and employment of the women to work illegally in the United States. Yannai faces a maximum penalty of 80 years in prison when he is sentenced.
The convictions were announced by United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta E. Lynch; Special Agent in Charge of ICE HSI in New York, James T. Hayes Jr.; and Westchester County District Attorney, Janet DiFiore. The case was jointly investigated with New York State Police and Pound Ridge Police Department.
The government's evidence at trial established that between January 2003 and March 2009, Yannai searched au pair websites for young women from around the world to recruit to work in his home, which he shared with his wife. Yannai told the women the work involved domestic services and clerical assistance. Yannai, however, used deception and fraud in recruiting the victims, even posing as two different women, "Joanna" and "Sylvia," who had supposedly worked for Yannai before and who extolled Yannai's virtues in email exchanges with the victims. In these fake e-mails, which were intended to allay the victims' reservations about working for the defendant, "Joanna" and "Sylvia," among other things, reassured the victims that Yannai had no intention of having sex with them.
As the evidence at trial showed, however, once the victims, five of whom testified at trial, arrived at Yannai's his home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., he subjected them to near-constant sexual abuse, which included groping the victims' breasts and buttocks, digitally penetrating them, and attempting to force them to perform oral sex on him. Yannai sought to ensure the victims' compliance with his increasingly more sexually abusive demands through fear, isolation, psychological coercion, and other means. Some of the victims were able to escape shortly after they arrived; others could not escape for months. Yannai was arrested after one of the victims escaped and went to a local police precinct.
"The defendant violated the trust of these women and, through his sexual abuse, demonstrated a blatant disregard for their dignity and well-being," said Special Agent in Charge Hayes. "More than ever, we are committed to identifying innocent victims and arresting those who prey on them."
"The defendant exploited and degraded his victims for criminal sexual purposes," said U.S. Attorney Lynch. "The message to those who would engage in similar criminal conduct could not be clearer - you will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
"This defendant was the ultimate manipulator, who used fear and psychological coercion to intimidate his victims, leaving them isolated and feeling that they had no choice but to do whatever he asked," said Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore. "The jury's verdict in this case affirms the importance of law enforcement at all levels working together to identify labor and sex traffickers and hold offenders, like this defendant, appropriately accountable for their crimes."
The government's case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Spector and Hilary Jager, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Stone, Second Deputy District Attorney and Chief of the Special Prosecutions Division, Westchester County District Attorney's Office.