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Celebrity chef sued for $5M in slave suit

Lawyers for an Italian woman filed a lawsuit last week against Douglas Manor resident Lidia Bastianich, claiming the celebrity restaurateur misled her with the promise of a job as a chef in one of her renowned kitchens and a green card, but instead withheld six years of wages as the woman took care of one of Bastianich’s elderly family friends at her College Point home.

Maria Carmela Farina is seeking $5 million from Bastianich, several of her companies and her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, for making Farina a “virtual indentured servant,” according to papers filed in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan Aug. 17.

Bastianich’s company, Tavola Productions, declined to comment.

The lawsuit claims Farina — who was mockingly called “il schiavio di lusso” or “the golden slave” — worked 24 hours a day for six years with no break and no vacation as a live-in health care aide for Luigia Crespi at 14-37 136th St. in College Point.

Farina, who is described as petite, had to care for the much heavier woman, and she struggled several times a day in attempting to carry her out of her wheelchair and into the bathroom, according to the lawsuit.

“Ms. Farina felt like a slave in the faux Roman Empire that Lidia Bastianich was trying to create,” it read.

Crespi’s husband worked as a handyman for Bastianich for years, and before his death in 1995 he arranged to have his home deeded to Bastianich if she promised to care for his wife once he died, the lawsuit contends.

After he died, an associate of the celebrity chef approached Farina in Italy and promised her a job as a chef at a salary of no less than $37,000 a year, according to the suit.

When she applied for her visa, Farina’s job description said she would manage and oversee kitchens and assist in the creation and preparation of new recipes for Bastianich’s television show, but instead Farina claims she was only once brought to the restaurants or the TV program during six years, according to the suit.

In 2006, Farina immigrated to the country to live with Crespi, who was 99 then, and immediately she was told she was to serve as personal assistant cleaning the home, cooking for Crespi, bathing her, feeding her, gardening, shopping and many other tasks the elderly woman was incapable of performing, the suit claims.

When she asked about being paid, Farina was told by the defendants at different times that her compensation was the cost of obtaining her green card and her health insurance, while other times she was told her paychecks were being directly deposited into a bank account, according to the suit.

One time, Bastianich Manuali simply responded, “You’re getting health insurance, what more do you want?” when Farina asked about her compensation, the suit contends.

When Crespi died at the age of 105 in December, Farina was told to move the furniture out of the house, which was going to be sold, according to the suit. Then in February, Bastianich Manuali approached her with a one-way air ticket to Venice and demanded that she leave immediately. Farina was informed that she would be paid $10,000 upon her arrival, according to the lawsuit.

According to her lawyer, Rosa Celeste, Farina finally sought help in March when she was threatened with eviction. Celeste said her client is currently living with members of the Italian-American community in Queens.

She said no petition for a green card was ever filed for Farina and she is currently out of status.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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Cleo from College Point says:
What?? Lidia Bastianach is not nice? Who would risk being mean when they are in the public eye?

I didn't know Italy was a source of cheap labor. This scenario is exactly like the horror stories about the Indian housekeepers in America who are overworked by their Indian American employers.

Are these stories real?
Oct. 5, 2012, 9:25 pm

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