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Couple from town of Harvard ordered to pay woman they treated as slave

A husband and wife from the town of Harvard were sentenced in federal court in Boston Wednesday to a year of probation and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to an immigrant woman they helped bring into the country illegally and then treated as a house slave for more than 13 years.

Martha Smalanskas, 48, and her husband Richard, 49, the parents of three children, must pay the restitution by Jan. 1 or face the possibility of jail time under a new indictment, said a federal prosecutor, who added that he sought restitution, rather than a jail term, as a more economic option for the victim in the case. The couple was initially charged with conspiracy and harboring a fugitive, but pleaded guilty in January to misdemeanor charges of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Assistant US Attorney Thomas E. Kanwit said he would not hesitate to file new charges if the restitution payments are not made by the deadline.

“It’s a very sad case; . . . this was abusive conduct,” Kanwit said, telling US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel he would have sought a higher restitution payment if he thought the Smalanskas family could pay more.

What’s worse, Kanwit said, was, “I have not heard or seen any sign of remorse from the defendants.”

He read a letter the unidentified victim sent to the judge, in which she said the couple “took away years of my life, and I will never be the same. . . . My life will never be the same.”

“This was deliberate and purposeful conduct,” Kanwit said, calling the woman essentially a “house slave.”

The couple did not react to Kanwit and rose to accept the sentence without addressing Zobel.

Martha Smalanskas was also ordered to perform 250 hours of community service for physically abusing the unidentified immigrant woman during the time she stayed with them.

Philip G. Cormier, an attorney for the couple, told Zobel that there are multiple witnesses who would have cast a more positive perspective on the couple’s relationship with the immigrant woman, and he argued that there are “two sides to the story.”

He said the couple agreed, however, to plead guilty and accept the sentence Wednesday under what he called a “compromise.”

The couple, according to court records and statements in past hearings, met the woman and hired her as a nanny when she was 16, when the couple lived in the woman’s native Bolivia.

After three years, they brought her to the United States and helped her get false documentation, to make it appear as if she were related to them.

But for more than 13 years, according to Kanwit, they treated her essentially as a house slave and paid her less than $3,000 for the 13 years she cooked, cleaned, cared for their children, and even shoveled snow for them.

According to Kanwit, the couple essentially paid the woman 53 cents an hour. Authorities determined that she was owed more than $300,000.

In the meantime, Kanwit said, the couple kept the woman’s passport, intimidated and abused her, and threatened to separate her from their children, whom she had helped raise.

“They knew well the psychological impact of that,” he said, adding that the woman never obtained an education, never had any outside relationships.

“She lost trust in people,” he said.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.
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