Chief Ryan Recounts Yannai Investigation

A federal court in Brooklyn convicted Pound Ridge resident, Joseph Yannai, Friday of an array of forced labor violations, including luring women to the U.S. for immoral purposes. But it was actually a long and sometimes lurid road for investigators to get there, which began with the Pound Ridge Police Department.

Six years ago, the Pound Ridge police say they received a call from a mother in Europe who said that her daughter might be in danger. The daughter, an au pair, was staying with Yannai, a renowned cookbook author.

When Pound Ridge police went to interview Yannai, they discovered that the female in question wasn’t there; however, two other females were present.

“We interviewed [Yannai] and thought something was fishy,” said Pound Ridge Police Chief David Ryan. “We thought something wasn’t right, but there was no evidence to go forward. Plus, the human trafficking laws we have now didn’t exist back then. They didn’t kick in until 2008.”

Then, in 2008, a motorist found a young woman walking along the highway who said she had escaped from Yannai's residence. She was brought to the Pound Ridge police station.

“Now we had someone to interview,” Ryan said. “Now we had a victim.”

Realizing the magnitude of the case, Pound Ridge police asked the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) to join the investigation. A search warrant was executed at the sprawling Yannai estate, computers were seized, and two girls were removed from the home. In 2009, Yannai was arrested and charged under the new human trafficking laws, including allegations he had sexually abused the females.

“He compelled [the females] to stay through force, fraud, coercion and fear,” Ryan said. “He was a deviant, a master manipulator, and his own lawyer admitted he was a dirty old man.”

Last week, a federal jury deliberated for two days before finding Yannai guilty of every count, including coercion and enticement under the Mann Act, forced labor, fraud in labor contracting, unlawful employment of aliens, importation of aliens for immoral purposes, and inducement of alien to illegally enter the United States. He faces a possible life sentence.

“This was something you wouldn’t expect to find in Pound Ridge,” Ryan said. “But it was the most satisfying conviction I’ve had in my 29 years in law enforcement.”

Ryan said the arrest and conviction wouldn’t have been possible without the help of state police, the district attorney’s office, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).

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