indica News Bureau-
California based Indian American couple has pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges and forced labor of foreign nationals.
On March 14, after an 11-day trial, the federal jury found Satish Kartan, 45, and his wife, Sharmistha Barai, 40, guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labor and two counts of obtaining forced labor.
According to court documents and evidence presented at the trial, Kartan and Barai hired workers from India and Nepal to perform domestic labor in their home in Stockton, California between February 2014 and October 2016.
Victims flew from India and Nepal to testify.
The couple advertised seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, the defendants made false claims regarding the wages and the duties of employment. The court documents show the advertisements mentioned a promising salary of $2,000 per month.
But once the workers arrived at the defendants’ Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai never paid them and forced them to work 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment.
Few of them were paid any wage. The defendants kept their domestic workers from leaving and induced them to keep working for them by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them. When a victim pushed back or said she wanted to leave, it got worse.
According to the court document, Rathanam Thamma, referred to in the Indictment as “Person Two,” traveled from Hyderabad and was promised to receive a payment of $1,400 monthly.
Thamma worked in the defendants’ home eighteen hours a day for approximately six weeks in July 2016 and August 2016, was physically and emotionally abused and was never paid.
According to evidence presented at the trial, the defendants struck one worker on multiple occasions. Barai threatened to kill her and throw her bones in the garbage, backhanded her across the face for talking back, and slammed her hands down on a gas stove, causing her to suffer first and second-degree burns on her hands from the flames.
The defendants also threatened several other victims to coerce them to keep working, including by telling the victims they would report them to the police or immigration authorities if they tried to leave.
Throughout the victims’ time in the defendants’ home, they were deprived of sleep and food. The defendants subjected the victims to verbal abuse and harassment in an effort to intimidate them into continuing to provide labor and services.
Thamma finally escaped to a neighbor’s house after the defendants took out the trash and left the gate padlock, for which Thamma did not know the code, unlocked.
Likewise, another victim Puspanjali Thapa referred to in the indictment as “Person Three,” was verbally berated and insulted by the defendants for the approximately four days she worked in the defendants’ home in September 2016. They told her they would call the police if she tried to leave.
When Thapa asked defendant Kartan for her wages, defendant Barai told Kartan to call the police. When Ms. Thapa attempted to arrange to be picked up from the defendants’ house, defendant Kartan refused to provide her with the gate code allowing access to the gated community within which the defendants’ residence was located. The United States intends to present evidence regarding victims including, but not limited to, those specifically named in the indictment.
“Human trafficking is a disgraceful and unacceptable crime. The defendants, in this case, took advantage of overseas workers, forcing them to work without pay, physically abusing them, and threatening negative repercussions if they tried to leave,” said AssistantAttorney General Eric Dreibund. “The Justice Department will continue
to investigate and vigorously prosecute human traffickers in order to bring justice to victims.”
“These defendants exploited one victim after another, using them to labor in their home, failing to pay wages and depriving them of basic human rights,” said U.S. Attorney Scott. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office
continues its commitment to protect and defend vulnerable members of our society from human trafficking.”
“The Diplomatic Security Service will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain,” Matthew Perlman, Special Agent in Charge of the Diplomatic Security Service San Francisco Field Office said through a press note.
“Kartan and Barai did not simply fail to pay victims for their work,” said Sean Ragan, Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento FBI Field Office through a press note, “but they deprived them of their dignity and robbed them of their federally protected civil rights.”
“Millions of people worldwide are affected by this type of forced labor and human trafficking,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, the Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Northern California
through a press note.
Kartan and Barai are scheduled to be sentenced on June 6, 2019. Each the defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.