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Charges: Maria Carmela Farina, Famous TV chef held slave worker

August 19, 2011

An Italian woman lured to America by promises she’d cook alongside a famous TV chef says the glamorous gig soon turned into servitude — and now she’s suing for $5 million.

Grandmotherly restaurateur Lidia Bastianich promised culinary fame and fortune, plaintiff Maria Carmela Farina charges in the sizzling Manhattan lawsuit — but delivered nothing but a zero-pay job as a 24-hour-a-day home attendant, for which she had to hoist the chef’s obese 100-year-old neighbor on and off a toilet in her Queens home.

“This was Lidia’s Roman Empire,” Farina’s lawyer, Paul Catsandonis, said yesterday of the celebrity’s alleged one-inmate labor camp on 136th Street in College Point.

The tale of alleged deceit and broken dreams — about which Bastianich spokeswoman Brooke Adams declined to comment — began in 1995.

Back then, Bastianich was already host of two popular PBS cooking shows, “Lidia’s Italy” and “Lidia’s Family Table,” and her first restaurants, Felidia on East 58th Street and Becco on West 46th Street, were hits.

When the handyman for Bastianich’s waterfront home on Shore Road in Little
Neck, Queens, Oscar Crespi, became ill with stomach cancer that year, he told Bastianich he’d deed her his 136th Street home so long as Bastianich cared for his wife, Luigia, until her death, the Manhattan Supreme Court suit says.

Oscar died in March 1995. Bastianich got the house. But when Luigia’s health began failing 10 years later, at age 99, Bastianich arranged for Farina to leave her own home in Venice, Italy, and move in, the suit says.

Farina, a chef with nearly three decades of experience, was allegedly promised that she’d make $600 a week working alongside Bastianich, helping manage her restaurants and TV show.

Contrary to every promise, her “work” wound up being the round-the-clock care of the wheelchair-dependent Luigia.

For six years, until Luigia’s death in December at age 105, Farina bathed, fed and shopped for the old woman, even helping her on and off the toilet.

Her “pay” was being set aside, Bastianich would tell her, and an expensive visa was being arranged for, the suit says.

“[Farina] became bonded with this old lady and didn’t want to leave her like that,” the lawyer said. “She really believed that Lidia some day was going to make good on her promises.”

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