A Chilean nanny says the wealthy New York family she worked for kept her as a slave, denied her food and medication, and paid her just $2 a day, a new lawsuit alleges.
Felicitas del Carmen Villanueva Garnica, 50, claims Malu Custer Edwards and Micky Hurley "trafficked" her into the U.S. "under false pretenses and for the purpose of unlawfully compelling her to care for their young children." According to a lawsuit filed recently in Manhattan's federal court, Villanueva was forced into "involuntary servitude" for three months by the Upper East Side couple before she finally managed to get out.
Villanueva reportedly began working for the family in Chile in 2010 and moved with them to New York a few weeks into the job. Prior to the move, the nanny says she was promised higher pay, health insurance, medical care, food, clothes, and lodging.
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"In Chile, they behaved very nicely,"
Villanueva told the New York Post. "When we came to the US, that's when the situation changed completely. I honestly didn't know. I didn't even imagine it."
During her time with the family, Villanueva said she was subject to constant berating and abuse, including being locked in a room with her employer's children, who hit her and slammed a refrigerator door on her head. She was forced to work 12-hour days on little pay, and told never to leave the house or speak to anyone outside the family, according to court documents.
Villanueva finally left after contacting the nonprofit crime-victims group Safe Horizon in early 2011.
Both Edwards and Hurly are prominent socialites with strong Chilean roots.
Edwards, 29, descends from Agustín Edwards McClure, a Chilean diplomat and publisher who led the League of Nations in 1922, the New York Post reported. Hurley, 35, is related to the country’s founding settlers and is the stepson of opera set designer Pier Luigi Samaritani.
The couple has denied all of Villanueva's allegations.
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"The claims are completely without merit and will be fully refuted in court," their lawyer, Robin Alperstein, told the Post.
In July 2011, the state Department of Labor ordered the couple to pay Villanueva $6,302 in back wages.
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