An Indian-American couple has been charged with human trafficking, the Santa Clara district attorney’s office in California has said.
Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, are accused of threatening the victim with deportation if he told the truth to law enforcement.
The Manns face charges of labor human trafficking, witness intimidation, and wage theft involving a total of four victims, according to the press release from the DA’s office.
According to the prosecution, the Manns engaged in predatory recruitment of their workers from India and lured them with promises of travel and financial independence.
The victim worked in a liquor store for 15-hour shifts, seven days a week, slept in a storage room, bathed in a mop bucket, and was never paid, according to the charges.
The couple’s criminal act was discovered in late February 2020 by an Alcoholic Beverage Control inspector, according to the DA’s office, who discovered the victim at M&M Liquors located on Westwood Drive in Gilroy, California.
The agent contacted a man who appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store, a major red flag for human trafficking.
Agents noted a thin mattress lying over milk crates, an office desk contained folded clothes in each drawer. On top of the desk there were pots and pans for cooking and next to the desk, there was a mop sink with a faucet approximately three feet off the ground and a shampoo bottle.
Investigators later learned the victim was bathing from the mop sink.
According to the DA’s communique, the investigation further concluded that the man had flown from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the United States with the couple.
Instead they took his money and passport and put him to work without pay or a key to leave the liquor store at night.
Three other men — two who worked at the liquor store and one who worked at the market across the street — told agents that they worked marathon hours and were paid a pittance. One said he had no idea about the concept of a minimum wage.
An investigation estimates that the suspects — who own a profitable liquor store and market — had stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees.
“Slavery officially was abolished in 1865,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen was quoted as saying in the press note. “Tragically, we are seeing examples of it in 2020. My office will prosecute anyone to the fullest extent of the law who practices this kind of criminal and inhumane exploitation.”