Italian Consulate Clerk Pleads Guilty To Misdemeanor After Allegations Of Housekeeper Abuse

A onetime Italian consulate clerk and his Brazilian wife pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco today to a reduced misdemeanor charge related to their employment of a Brazilian woman as their servant in 2009.

Giuseppe Penzato, 56, and Kesia Penzato, 34, of San Francisco, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Edward Chen to a count of conspiring to possess an unauthorized identification document belonging to the unnamed woman.

They will be sentenced by Chen on May 8. Under a plea agreement, the sentence will be five years of probation plus a restitution payment of $13,000 to the victim.

The Penzatos were originally charged with heavier felony counts of obtaining false labor by means of threats, force or restraint and conspiring to obtain false labor from the woman during the three months that she worked for them at a housekeeper in late 2009.

The felony counts, levied in a federal criminal complaint in 2011 and then a grand jury indictment in 2012, will be dropped as a result of the plea agreement.

Defense lawyers Josh Cohen and Gail Shifman declined to comment on the case outside of court. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Josh Eaton said, “We have no comment.”

Giuseppe and Kesia Penzato were arrested on the original charges on June 24, 2011, and freed on $250,000 property bonds four days later.

At the time, Giuseppe Penzato worked as an administrative clerk for the Italian consulate in San Francisco. A consulate representative said today he could not say whether Penzato still works there.

An affidavit filed with the 2011 criminal complaint alleged the couple paid the woman only $600 or $700 during the three months, confiscated her passport, withheld food from her and forced her to work 60 hours per week on childcare and housekeeping.

The affidavit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Melissa Saurwein said the couple promised the woman she would work only 35 hours per week and be paid $1,500 per month in addition to being given room and board.

The document said Kesia Penzato had known the woman during their childhood in Brazil and enticed her to come to San Francisco to work for the couple while attending nursing school. The woman had been employed as a community public health agent in Brazil.

In a court filing in 2011, the Penzatos said they “vehemently deny the charges” and alleged the housekeeper was “a scheming young woman” with a goal of living permanently in the United States.”

In 2010, the Brazilian woman under the name of Jane Doe filed a civil lawsuit against the Penzatos in federal court in San Francisco containing similar allegations of forced labor.

That lawsuit, which is still pending, alleges the Penzatos lured the woman to San Francisco with false promises and subjected her to “intimidation, assault and involuntary servitude.”

The woman’s lawyer in the civil case, Lisa Nguyen, declined to comment, and the Penzatos’ lawyer in the case, Mia Blackler, could not be reached for comment. In court filings, the couple has denied the allegations.

The unauthorized identification document referred to in the couple’s guilty pleas today was a U.S. Justice Department arrival and departure record belonging to the Brazilian woman.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Owen Martikan told Chen the document was not legally authorized because it was based on a visa application that said the woman would be working only for the Penzatos.

The couple allegedly “knew she would be working for another individual as well,” Martikan said. The second employer was Italian Vice Consul Marcello Curci, according to the 2011 affidavit.

The misdemeanor count carries a possible maximum sentence of one year in prison. While prosecution and defense attorneys agreed on a recommended sentence of probation and $13,000 restitution, Chen has the option of selecting a different penalty at the May 8 sentencing. In that event, the Penzatos would be entitled to withdraw their guilty pleas and go to trial.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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