Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney announced that today Piyamas Demasi, a 45-year-old woman and owner of recently closed businesses of Thai Thai Bistro and Karma Bistro in Niskayuna, NY, was sentenced by Acting Schenectady County Court Judge Mark J. Caruso to 5 years’ probation for her Labor Trafficking conviction. On March 11, 2022, the defendant pleaded guilty to Labor Trafficking, a Class D felony, which was the top count in a thirteen-count indictment that charged her with two counts of Labor Trafficking, one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, which are all Class D felonies, and five counts each of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, which are all Class E felonies.
It is alleged that Ms. Demasi hired a female immigrant from Thailand to work in her restaurant Thai Thai Bistro. After the victim began working, she was duped into paying the defendant thousands of dollars so that the defendant would sponsor the victim as an expert Thai chef through to get her a green card (which would provide the victim with permanent lawful status in the United States). However, the defendant would only sponsor the victim if the victim paid for all the defendant’s costs associated with the visa process. The defendant also required that her victim agree to continue working for the defendant for an additional 2 years after the visa process was completed. The defendant knew that these conditions were illegal.
After the victim made initial payments, the defendant made her work as a server (not as a chef as the defendant had represented in the visa application) and stopped paying wages to the victim altogether, forcing her to live off of tips alone. Despite that, the defendant nevertheless made the victim pay for legal bills related to the visa process and demanded an additional $10,000 for her efforts in sponsoring the visa application. The victim stopped working for the defendant in January 2018 after being forced to work without wages or tips for a period. When the defendant did pay the victim, she did so in cash and failed to report the victim on her payroll and employment filings made with New York State authorities. In so doing, the defendant concealed her illegal arrangement with the victim, while also avoiding her tax obligations.
In pleading guilty to Labor Trafficking, the defendant admitted that between June 2017 and June 2018, the defendant compelled or induced another person to engage in labor by means of intentionally requiring that the labor be performed to retire, repay, or service a real or purported debt that the defendant has caused by a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud such person.
Ms. Demasi pled guilty to secure an agreed upon range of sentencing possibilities to be imposed by Hon. Mark J. Caruso, Acting Schenectady County Court Judge. Under the plea agreement, the maximum sentence that could have been imposed was 1 to 3 years in state prison, and the minimum possible sentence was 5 years of probation. Under the agreement, the Court had the authority impose a sentence that consists of some local jail time and probation. The agreement required any probation sentence to include a condition that the defendant pay for an annual review by a forensic accountant of the defendant’s businesses’ books and records to ensure compliance with New York State tax and labor laws, which the defendant has previously violated. Lastly, under the terms of the plea agreement, the defendant agreed to make restitution of more than $8,500 to the victim and $4,000 to the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance and NYS Department of Labor (representing unpaid tax liabilities, unemployment insurance contributions, fines, and penalties).
At sentencing, Andrew Safranko, the defendant’s attorney, argued that a sentence of probation alone was appropriate because the defendant’s only crime was requiring the victim to pay the costs for an immigration lawyer for an immigration process that the defendant was helping the victim with. The defense submitted numerous letters in support of the defendant’s good character and highlighted the defendant’s lack of any criminal history. The defense further pointed out that the defendant had paid back all of the restitution that was required at the time of sentence. Mr. Safranko thus argued that a sentence of probation was appropriate.
ADA William Lemon, on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office, argued that incarceration was appropriate given the defendant’s systematic ongoing course of fraudulent conduct in which she financially exploited the victim. This was not a lapse of judgment. Rather, it was months of deception and exploitation: months of withholding wages, months of paying an illegal wage, months of concealing tax obligations. ADA Lemon argued that the letters in support of the defendant demonstrated how the defendant treated people whom she respected and cared for, which stands in stark contrast to how she treated people whom she disrespected and did not care about, like the victim in this case.
ADA Lemon further argued that the crime of labor trafficking is a crime of privacy, much like sexual assault cases. It takes place out of public view, and thus the writers of the letters had no reason to know the full scope of the defendant’s actions outside of public view. For that reason, ADA Lemon took issue with the defense arguments that suggested the victim was benefitting from the defendant’s prosecution, calling it victim blaming. The prosecution noted that the defense was suggesting that the victim wanted to be trafficked, that she wanted the job the defendant offered her, and that she wanted the green card. Had similar arguments been made in a sexual assault case, everyone in the court room would be appalled. ADA Lemon argued that it should make no difference that this is a crime of fraud and not a sexual assault.
Lastly, ADA Lemon argued that a sentence of any incarceration was necessary to punish the defendant’s fraud and to deter others from engaging in similar acts. At a minimum, ADA Lemon argued that two weeks of jail in addition to probation would be appropriate as that amount of time would be the same amount of time the defendant made the victim work for free. As to the defense’s request that a limited Certificate of Relief from Disabilities be issued so that the defendant could retain her liquor license, the prosecution argued that such relief was not warranted given that the defendant’s restaurant business was the instrumentality of the defendant’s crime.
In imposing sentence, Hon. Mark J. Caruso, Acting Schenectady County Court Judge, explained that he had carefully considered all of the written submissions made by the parties and had gone back and forth in the days leading up to the sentencing hearing as to the sentence to impose. Judge Caruso ultimately imposed a sentence of 5 years of probation, requiring the defendant to perform 250 hours of community service. The defendant is also required to hire an independent auditor to conduct an annual forensic audit of the defendant’s businesses and certify that the defendant is in compliance with tax and labor laws. Judge Caruso stated that it was his judgment that 5 years of probation was sufficient to deter others from engaging in this crime. In addition, the court issued a limited Certificate of Relief from Disabilities allowing the defendant to maintain her license to sell liquor in New York State.
Following sentencing, Jonathan Mellone, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, New York Region said “Piyamas Demasi made the victim work at her restaurant for wages less than the prevailing rate, occasionally for no pay. She also threatened to cancel the victim’s labor certification if she didn’t continue to work for little to no wages and required the victim pay her thousands of dollars in illegal fees to file their labor certification. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously pursue those who take advantage of workers and defraud worker visa programs for their own personal gain.”
The Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office urges anyone who is or knows someone who may be a victim of labor trafficking or any illegal employment conditions or requirements to contact the US National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 (TTY:711), by texting “BeFree” (233733), via live chat or email. Services are available toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
At the time of arraignment District Attorney Carney stated, “labor trafficking is an assault on basic human dignity, it deprives the government of taxes owed and confers an undeserved competitive advantage on the perpetrator. For these reasons, cases such as this deserve and will continue to receive commitment of prosecutorial resources.” At the time of her guilty plea, District Attorney Carney further stated, “Schenectady has a proud history of advancing and protecting the rights of workers and I see this first of its kind labor trafficking conviction as being of that tradition. Ms. Demasi exploited one of today’s most vulnerable workers an immigrant who believed that her dream of permanent residence, here, in the country in which she went to high school and college depended upon complying with the demands of her employer. There may be many people similarly victimized and may be afraid to come forward. She bravely did and through this prosecution we were able to make her financially whole and hopefully send a signal to others facing similar extortion demands from unscrupulous employers that they should speak up. I commend Assistant District Attorneys Lemon and Carson for their work in exposing this crime and obtaining accountability against its perpetrator.”
Assistant District Attorney William M. Lemon prosecuted the case with assistance from Special Victims Unit Bureau Chief Assistant District Attorney John J. Carson. The defendant was represented by attorney Andrew Safranko. For further information, contact ADA Lemon at (845) 406-5618.