The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


Wife named in sex trafficking civil suit

Joseph Yannai

Joseph Yannai, a Pound Ridge resident, convicted of labor and sex trafficking in June last year, is being sued for $100 million by three of his victims — Gisele Lunkes, Bernadett Herczeg and Isabelle A. Krintz. The complaint was received in federal court on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Elena Fusillo, Mr. Yannai’s wife, is included in the civil lawsuit, named for violations of the labor trafficking provisions of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection act, a law enacted in 2000 to combat forced labor and prostitution. The act provides a civil remedy for victims. The lawsuit comes despite the fact that Ms. Fusilllo was never charged with a crime by the federal prosecutor’s office or by the Westchester district attorney. The three women allege that Ms. Fusillo took part in a scheme to “coerce and fraudlently induce young women to travel to the United States from abroad to provide labor and services.

The lawsuit states that the three women were forced to engage in unpaid or underpaid labor and sex acts.  

Ms. Lunkes, a citizen of Brazil, lived with Mr. Yannai and Ms. Fusillo from July 2007 until March 2009. Ms. Herczeg, a citizen of Hungary, resided in the Yannai house from Feb. 18 through March 11, 2009, and Ms. Krintz, a citizen of France, was there from March 14 until March 23, 2009.

Michael Alan Karlan of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher is representing the three women.

In early June of 2011, after two days of deliberation, a federal jury found Mr. Yannai guilty of forced labor and attempted forced labor, enticing women to travel to the United States from abroad so that he could commit sex crimes against them, fraud in labor contracting, and several immigration violations relating to his recruitment and employment of the women to work illegally in the United States. When sentenced, Mr. Yannai, 68, faces a maximum penalty of 80 years incarceration.

According to the complaint, Mr. Yannai created the fictional name “Joanna” in emails and told the women that if they performed their duties well, he would help them obtain a green card. The women would be trained in business and in the hospitality industry. If they lived at the couple’s home, they were promised “meals, room, board and $20,000 at the end of the year.”

The complaint states that all three women were “afraid” of Mr. Yannai. The complaint also goes into detail of sexual experiences forced on the women by Mr. Yannai.

It is alleged in the civil lawsuit that Mr. Yannai told Ms. Herczeg that if she refused to perform sexual acts for him she would be treated like “furniture” and would not be spoken to, would not be able to leave the house, would not receive assistance with her health and other needs and would not be able to meet other people to become a businesswoman.

Ms. Lunkes said that she worked for the couple for nearly two years, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, but was never paid for her labor and services. According to the complaint, Mr. Yannai struck Ms. Lunkes on the face on multiple occasions, and Ms. Lunkes also witnessed Mr. Yannai punching another young victim in the face. Mr. Yannai allegedly intimidated Ms. Lunkes, Ms. Herczeg and Ms. Krintz by telling them that he had killed people while serving in the Israeli military. Ms. Lunkes was allegedly sexually molested “hundreds of times” by Mr. Yannai.

In the complaint, Ms. Herczeg stated that Mr. Yannai grabbed her, bit her and assaulted her, among other offenses.

The escape from the Yannai household was accomplished after Ms. Herczeg met a Hungarian citizen living in Pound Ridge on the Internet and secretly met with her on March 11, 2009. After the meeting, Ms. Herczeg returned to the Yannai house to pack her belongings. Around midnight, police officers arrived at the house and asked Ms. Herczeg if she wanted to leave.

Ms. Herczeg left the house and did not return, but she did cooperate with the police during their investigation. On March 23, the police returned to the Yannai residence and rescued Ms. Lunkes and Ms. Krintz. 

The suit seeks compensatory damages to be proven at trial, along with $100 million in punitive damages.

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FEBRUARY 3, 2012