By Hassina Leelarathna
A Jordanian-born New Jersey woman who entered into a same sex marriage with a Sri Lankan and forced her to work as a housekeeper and nanny for almost a decade without pay has been sentenced to five years and 10 months in federal prison (10 March).
A federal judge also sentenced Alia Imad Faleh Al Hunaity, aka Alia Al Qaternah, 44, a naturalised US citizen, to three years of supervised release and ordered her to pay restitution of $ 1.2 million.
Al Hunaity was found guilty on all counts of the indictment against her following a six-day trial before US District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden federal court. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning the guilty verdict.
“The defendant took advantage of the victim for years, forcing her to live in terrible conditions, work without pay, and then enter into a fraudulent marriage to continue the cycle of abuse,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband.
Al-Hunaity was indicted in April 2018 for entering into a fraudulent marriage with the victim for the purpose of evading immigration laws and harbouring ‘an illegal alien’ from July 2009 through September 2018 for private financial gain. She was also charged with forcing the Sri Lankan woman to work by means of threats of serious bodily harm.
“The defendant in this case treated the victim as a slave,” US Attorney Carpenito said in a Department of Justice press release, 9 May. “Al-Hunaity kept the victim in this country illegally and hid her away, in order to force her to perform household work for Al-Hunaity without pay, privacy, or the ability to move about freely.”
In a criminal complaint filed 17 September 2018, Homeland Security Special Agent Ronald Conyers told the court that Al-Hunaity had brought the Sri Lankan woman, who had been working previously as ‘a servant’ for her parents in Jordan to the US on a temporary visa in 2009. Al- Hunaity did not permit the Sri Lankan (identified in court documents only as ‘Victim-1’) to leave on expiry of her three-month visa and forced her to live exclusively with her at two homes she owned doing house work and taking care of her three children.
Al-Hunaity failed to pay the Sri Lankan woman the promised pay of $ 150 a month telling her only that the money was being held in a bank account. On at least two occasions Al- Hunaity had struck the victim because she did not like her behaviour, such as wearing ‘tight clothes’.
The Sri Lankan woman’s interactions with the outside world were limited, allowed to leave the house unsupervised only to take the children to and from the school bus stop. She was not given a room of her own and slept on a bed placed in the kitchen, Conyers said in his report.
Al-Hunaity, who worked in New York, has not been in custody and was ordered to surrender at a date to be determined by the Bureau of Prisons.
Defence attorney S. Emile Lisboa IV told the judge that Al-Hunaity was single a parent and had no one else to help take care of her 11-year old triplet sons, one of whom has cystic fibrosis.
Al-Hunaity also addressed the judge saying she was “sorry for everything” and that she had treated the Sri Lankan woman as a “sister, friend.”
US Attorney Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband credited special agents of US Homeland Security Investigations, Newark Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian Michael, and special agents of the US Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, New York Region, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael C. Mikulka, with the investigation leading to the sentencing.