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Indian American Couple in Calif. Charged With Human Trafficking in Another Instance of Exploiting Migrants

Indian American Couple in Calif. Charged With Human Trafficking in Another Instance of Exploiting Migrants

Staff Writer
  • Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, allegedly forced an Indian employee to work and sleep in their liquor store for free, and severely underpaying three other migrant employees.

A California couple, charged with human trafficking for forcing an Indian employee to work and sleep in their liquor store for free, and severely underpaying three other migrant employees, has been granted house arrest. According to a report in The Mercury News, Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, “will be subject to GPS monitoring and unannounced searches, and will be prohibited from leaving Santa Clara County, with some allowances to leave home for medical and attorney appointments.”

The Manns, who live in Gilroy, are accused of locking an employee in the store mistreating him, making him work 15 hour shifts, seven days a week, and not paying his wages. As per a press release issued by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, the Manns allegedly threatened the victim with deportation if he told the truth to law enforcement.

Citing the investigation by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the press release from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office said that the Manns had stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees. “The Manns engaged in predatory recruitment of their workers from India and lured them with promises of travel and financial independence,” the press release said.

In addition to the labor human trafficking charges, the Mann’s face multiple penal code violations, including wage theft, conspiracy, witness intimidation, and failing to maintain workers compensation insurance, in the case that involves as many as four victims.

In February of this year, an Alcoholic Beverage Control inspection discovered the victim at M&M Liquors located on Westwood Drive in Gilroy had flown from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the U.S. with the couple. Instead they took his money and passport and put him to work in the store. He was forced to live in a small storage room in the back area of the store, sleep on a thin mattress over milk crates, and bathe from the mop sink.  

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, the Alcoholic Beverage Control said. The investigation further concluded that the man worked without pay or a key to leave the liquor store at night.

Last month, Sharmistha Barai of Stockton, California, was sentenced to 188 months in prison for forced labor violation. She was also ordered to pay $15,657 in restitution to three victims, in part to cover their back wages and other losses.

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This March, Barai, 40, and her husband, Satish Kartan, 46, were found guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labour and two counts of obtaining forced labor. Kartan was sentenced on Oct. 22. to 15 years and eight months in prison

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, between February 2014 and October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired workers from overseas to perform domestic labor in their home in Stockton. In advertisements seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, the defendants made false claims about the wages and conditions of employment. 

Once the workers arrived at their Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai compelled them to work up to 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment. Few of them were paid any wage. The defendants kept the domestic workers from leaving and coerced them to continue working by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them. When a victim resisted or expressed a desire to leave, the threats and abuse became worse.

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