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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Pound Ridge man indicted for sex crimes, forced labor

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - A federal grand jury in Brooklyn returned an indictment charging Joseph Yannai, 66, of Pound Ridge, N.Y., with forced labor, violation of immigration laws, and other crimes. The indictment alleges that the defendant engaged in a scheme, using lies, intimidation and manipulation to induce young women, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, to travel to the United States from abroad so that he could sexually abuse them.

The indictment was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York,. The case was jointly investigated with the Westchester County District Attorney's Office, New York State Police Department, and Pound Ridge Police Department.

"Victims in forced labor cases are particularly vulnerable targets who are lured with promises of employment and stable lives and then end up in abusive and deplorable situations," said Hayes. "These vicious conditions will not be tolerated in this country, and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and vigorously investigate, identify, and arrest the individuals that exploit them and bring them to justice."

As detailed in the indictment, from 2003 -2009, Yannai contacted young women throughout the world, using websites designed to match women seeking work as au pairs with families in the United States. In his email communications with the women, Yannai frequently posed as a woman who was supposedly working for Yannai. Yannai convinced women to travel to the United States to work for him at his home, and instructed them to travel to the United States on tourist visas and to falsely tell immigration authorities that they were visiting Yannai for a short time.

According to the indictment, Yannai generally had one or two of the women living at his home at any one time. He allegedly attempted to kiss, grope, and fondle the women when they arrived, forbade them to wear bras, pressured them to be present in the bathroom while he bathed and to lie in bed with him while he napped, and otherwise sexually assaulted some of the women. Yannai limited the women's contacts with the outside world, monitored their telephone calls and threatened them with violence.

"This case is another example of our continuing efforts to aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals who seek to victimize and exploit others to obtain their labor and for criminal sexual purposes," stated U. S. Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the New York State Police Department and Pound Ridge Police Department for their assistance in the investigation.

Westchester County District Attorney DiFiore stated, "Human trafficking, whether for sexual exploitation or forced labor, is akin to modern day slavery. Any time that law enforcement can raise public awareness about this hidden abuse is another step towards eradicating this heinous crime. This case exemplifies the importance of law enforcement at all levels working together to identify the traffickers and hold these offenders appropriately accountable for their crimes."

 If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of the defendant's residence in Pound Ridge, as property used to facilitate the commission of the offense.

The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Margo Brodie, 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.