Dailymail - A housekeeper has accused her former employers, a Korean Buddhist monk and his family, of keeping her as a prisoner in their homes in Queens, New York, for 12 years and forcing her to work as their ‘slave’ under a threat of death.
The housekeeper, Oak-Jin Oh, 60, alleges that the family forced her to work long hours without pay, deprived her of medical care when she was sick and ‘usually’ refused to give her a bedroom or a bed to sleep in.
The family allowed her to go out to buy groceries from time to time but they used threats to dissuade her from reporting her situation to the authorities, according to the lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Manhattan.
Miss Oh ‘was threatened with reputational harm, physical harm and death,’ the lawsuit says.
The suit names the family patriarch, Soo Bok Choi, a Buddhist monk, as a defendant, as well as two of Mr Choi’s brothers, his son and daughter, a niece and the personal representative of the estate of his mother, who died in 2009.
Miss Oh’s lawyers said court papers have been served to three of the defendants, but they have been unable to locate the others.
Miss Oh is a Korean immigrant and is being represented by the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund and the New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Oh was introduced to the Choi family in 1998 by an employment placement agency in South Korea.
Mr Choi said he was looking for someone to work in his family’s home and in his temple in New York, the complaint says.
Miss Oh agreed to travel to the United States to work for the family in exchange for a monthly wage of 1.3 million Korean won, equivalent to about $1,200 at current exchange rates.
Mr Choi flew with Miss Oh to Toronto, the lawsuit says, then smuggled her across the border into New York ‘under the cover of night’ in a small boat, the New York Times reports.
Over the next 12 years, the Choi family ‘harboured’ Miss Oh in homes around Queens, including in Elmhurst, Little Neck, Bayside, Flushing and Whitestone, according to the complaint.
She said she never had a day off, often working 14 hours a day or more.
Miss Oh was also forced to work at the family’s Buddhist temple, which operated out of the family’s house in Little Neck until about 2001, the complaint says.
The lawsuit claims that the Choi family intimidated Miss Oh into remaining quiet about her situation and made her completely dependent on them by taking her passport, withholding her pay, limiting her contact with others, monitoring her telephone calls and generally isolating her from the rest of society.
Mr Choi ‘also told Ms. Oh that he could easily pay to have someone kill her,’ and frequently threatened to report her to immigration authorities and have her deported, the lawsuit says.
She was finally able to escape “with the assistance of a Good Samaritan,” a friend of the family who visited the Choi home and took pity on the woman, said one of Ms. Oh’s lawyers, Ivy Suriyopas.
Through an interpreter, Miss Oh said: ‘This man calls himself a monk, but to me, he is a criminal.
‘He stole 12 years of my life even though I worked hard for him and his family.
‘It’s not right to look down on the weak and cause them damage just because you have power and status.’