PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A prosecutor argued on Tuesday that a United Arab Emirates naval officer took advantage of his servant by luring her to Rhode Island with no plans to pay her, while the man's defense attorney contended the case against him is a "spectacular" failure.
Both sides delivered closing arguments in the case of Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali in a Providence federal court after the naval officer testified in his own defense that he paid his servant her full salary in cash before she traveled to the United States with his family. He also said he saw servant Elizabeth Cabitla Ballesteros as a "daughter."
Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi said she plans to announce a verdict Friday morning. Al-Ali is charged with fraud in foreign labor contracting. The crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Al-Ali has already been acquitted of lying to a federal agent.
"Mr. Al-Ali intended to bring his servant to the United States and not pay her," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Rogers as Ballesteros listened in the courtroom.
Rogers said it "defies common sense" that Al-Ali would pay Ballesteros the equivalent of nearly $20,000 for her work in Rhode Island before she even began working. She also said Al-Ali's story is "made up" and that he reaped "all the advantage in the world" by having Ballesteros sign a receipt indicating she received 12 payments of $1,600.
"This defendant is clearly not stupid. He's just hoping everyone else in the United States is," said Rogers, who highlighted Al-Ali's education, success, wealth and monthly government salary of $32,000.
Defense attorney Robert C. Corrente countered that the case against Al-Ali is a "complete and spectacular" failure. He said prosecutors never got to the heart of the matter, which was what Al-Ali told Ballesteros her job responsibilities would be in the U.S.
"That is the most important evidence in this entire case. They never went back and closed that loop and presented the critical evidence in the case," Corrente said.
He added Al-Ali did not prepare Ballesteros's work contract. Al-Ali and Ballesteros testified they did not read the work contract they signed.
Corrente called Ballesteros's testimony "inherently incredible" and said no one hoses down a house or cleans a home and washes cars daily.
Ballesteros described working long hours to clean Al-Ali's home and two cars, and cook, do laundry and iron for the family of seven. She said when the family arrived at their rented East Greenwich home in July 2010, Al-Ali asked her to clean cobwebs from the front of the house with a hose. Al-Ali denied that account.
Al-Ali testified Ballesteros was responsible for babysitting his 4-year-old child and doing the toddler's laundry. He also said his wife and children cleaned their home and his wife cooked for the family.
"There has been a great injustice done to this man and I would ask the court to find him not guilty on count one," Corrente said.
Al-Ali came to Rhode Island last year to study at the U.S. Navy War College in Newport. Ballesteros left his home in October 2010.
During cross-examination, Al-Ali testified he did not inquire about what Ballesteros did with the lump salary payment he said he gave her in the UAE. He said in Rhode Island, his wife gave Ballesteros extra cash payments, a portion of which would be wired to the Philippines.
Al-Ali also said he was not concerned that Ballesteros would try to leave his family once she arrived in the U.S., as some domestic workers do. He testified he thought Ballesteros should keep her passport with her in Rhode Island, but took it from her around the time she fled to arrange a trip to Niagara Falls. Ballesteros said Al-Ali kept the passport from her the entire time she was in the U.S.
Al-Ali's family went back to the UAE after he was criminally charged. He broke down while describing how his wife and children cried at an April party for his 8-year-old son.
"My wife fell down crying," he said. "It was awful. I decided I should let them go back to their country."
Al-Ali accompanied his family to the airport in New York, where he was arrested for violating the terms of his pre-trial release after officials say he boarded the plane with them.
The final witness to testify for the defense was U.S. Naval Capt. Stephen Senteio, who is director of the Naval Command College at the war college. He described Al-Ali as "one of the finest people I've known."
Ballesteros testified she started working for Al-Ali in the UAE in 2007. She said she continued to work for him even though she was paid less than what she was promised in a contract.