A federal judge in Camden on Tuesday sentenced a North Jersey woman to 5 years and 10 months in federal prison for forcing a Sri Lankan woman to work as a nanny and housekeeper in her homes for almost a decade without pay.
Alia Imad Faleh Al Hunaity, a.k.a. Alia Al Qaternah, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, had brought the victim, a Sri Lankan national, to the United States on a temporary visa in 2009 to perform domestic work. Hunaity caused the victim to overstay her visa and remain in the United States illegally for more than nine years, federal prosecutors have said.
Hunaity, a cancer research scientist, was convicted by a federal jury in Camden in May on charges of forced labor, alien harboring for financial gain, and marriage fraud. She had forced the victim to cook and clean her homes in Woodland Park and Secaucus and to care for her three children, all without pay, prosecutors have said.
In 2018, Hunaity forced the woman — who was not identified in court — to marry her so that the woman could obtain legal residence and continue to work for her, authorities have said.
This case “began with lies from the defendant to the victim about coming to the United States” for a better life, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler said Tuesday. Instead, Hunaity “never paid the victim a penny,” took $4,000 from the woman, and told her not to speak to other children’s parents so they wouldn’t know she was in the U.S. illegally, the judge said.
Hunaity also “forced the victim into a sham marriage” with Hunaity that brought the victim shame, Kugler said.
Hunaity, who worked in New York, has not been in custody. She was ordered to surrender at a date to be determined by the Bureau of Prisons and to pay the woman $1.2 million in restitution. In addition, the judge sentenced Hunaity to three years’ supervised release after the prison term.
A single mom, she has raised her triplet sons, now 11, with the nanny’s help. One has cystic fibrosis.
Defense attorney S. Emile Lisboa IV told the judge that no one else in Hunaity’s family can care for her ill son and give him the medications he needs to survive.
Hunaity told the judge: “I want to say sorry for everything.” She said she had treated the woman as a “sister, friend.”
Twelve relatives and friends of Hunaity’s were in court to support her, including her three sons. One son stood before the judge and told him tearfully that his nanny had been an “important part” of his family and he considered her as a “big sister.” He said his mother wakes up at 5 a.m. to start his ill brother’s treatments and to get them ready for school.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Macurdy told the judge that the victim did not want Hunaity to go to jail because of the children, but that the government believed a prison term was appropriate because Hunaity’s letter to the court showed no remorse and because she has paid the woman no money.