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UAE officer accused of keeping unpaid servant says he paid woman before she began work in RI
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) ' A United Arab Emirates naval officer accused of keeping an unpaid servant in Rhode Island took the stand in his own defense Tuesday, saying he paid the woman in cash before bringing her to the U.S.
Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali described in U.S. District Court in Providence how he paid the woman a full salary and provided a comfortable life for her.
Al-Ali is charged with fraud in foreign labor contracting, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Earlier Tuesday, Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi acquitted him of a charge of lying to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.
The servant, Elizabeth Cabitla Ballesteros, began working for Al-Ali in the UAE in 2007 and was hired to babysit for the family's youngest child while they lived in East Greenwich, he said.
On Monday, Ballesteros testified that Al-Ali did not pay her and made her work long hours cleaning, washing cars, cooking, ironing and doing laundry for a family of seven in a home that was much larger than what she was told.
Al-Ali, however, testified that Ballesteros was "happy" to accompany the family to Rhode Island, where he was selected in 2010 to participate in a one-year program at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport.
He also said Ballesteros told him she wanted to be paid for her work in the U.S. in cash. Al-Ali and Ballesteros signed a contract, which promised her a $1,600 monthly salary.
"I gave her all the money in dirham," UAE's currency, before Ballesteros and the family left for the U.S. in July 2010, Al-Ali said.
Ballesteros said the contract was forced, that Al-Ali held her hand and forced her to sign a payment receipt affirming she had received her $1,600 monthly salary the night before departing the UAE. Al-Ali denied that allegation, noting that his religion, Islam, bars him from touching women who are not family members.
Ballesteros was responsible only for babysitting Al-Ali's 4-year-old son and doing the boy's laundry, Al-Ali said. Her daily duties ended by around 8:30 p.m. when the boy went to bed, he said.
Al-Ali said his wife and children cleaned their rented home and his wife cooked for the family. A landscaper took care of the grounds and the swimming pool did not require maintenance because it was closed, he said. He also denied making Ballesteros clean cobwebs from the front of the home when they first moved in.
Al-Ali also testified that Ballesteros accompanied his family on excursions, dined with them in restaurants and sat with them in first-class on their flight from the UAE to New York. Ballesteros had testified that she had to sit in the back of the plane during the flight except when summoned by Al-Ali for help with the children and went on one trip with the family to Boston.
Al-Ali became emotional when discussing how life changed for him and his family after federal officials charged him with a crime. His family flew home to the UAE in April. Al-Ali was arrested at the airport after prosecutors say he tried to go with them.
"A lot of things happened to their life. It was unbelievable," said Al-Ali, who described being ostracized by friends at the war college and seeing his children experience nightmares after he was charged.
Al-Ali wore a white naval uniform and occasionally consulted with an Arabic interpreter during his testimony.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Rogers was continuing her cross examination of Al-Ali on Tuesday afternoon.