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Couple admit to underpaying immigrant for 13 years

A husband and wife from the town of Harvard pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston Wednesday to charges they paid an immigrant they helped bring into the country illegally less than $3,000 for the 13 years she cooked, cleaned, cared for their children, and even shoveled snow for them, according to court records.

Martha Smalanskas, 48, and Richard Smalanskas, 49, the parents of three children, will serve a year of probation and pay the victim $150,000 in restitution, under an agreement they reached with prosecutors. A charge of harboring an illegal immigrant, which carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, will be dismissed.


The couple will be sentenced April 2 after pleading guilty to charges of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Assistant US Attorney Thomas E. Kanwit told US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel Wednesday that prosecutors sought restitution rather than jail so the victim, whom the couple hired when she was 16, could benefit from the money.

“They brought her into the United States to work,” he said.

Authorities determined that the couple hired the nanny when she 16, when the couple lived in Bolivia. After three years, they brought her to the United States and helped her get false documentation to make it appear as if she was related to them.

Once here, they took her travel documents away, and she was required to work long hours: From 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week, although she was allowed to leave early some Saturdays. She had Sundays off.

During that time, they promised her $100 a month, though they increased the promise to $150 a month in the last years she worked for them, and still they did not pay that, according to court records. Prosecutors determined that at times the family paid her as little as $35 a month.


Kanwit said authorities determined that the Smalanskas family owed the victim roughly $301,000, after accounting for room and board, under the prevailing minimum wage. Instead, she got about $2,500.

“That would be for the entire 13 years and four months” she worked, from 1997 to 2011, he said.

The victim was removed from the home for unknown reasons in May 2011.

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