Indian-American couple convicted for forced labour in Virginia

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Public TV English
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VIRGINIA (USA): A federal jury in Virginia has convicted an Indian-American couple, Harmanpreet Singh (30) and Kulbir Kaur (43) of conspiracy to commit forced labour at a gas station and convenience store in the state, a US attorney has said.

The convicted couple forced Singh’s cousin to provide labour and services at Singh’s store, including working as the cashier, preparing food, cleaning and managing store records.

The attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia said Singh and Kaur used various coercive means, including confiscating the victim’s immigration documents, subjecting the victim to physical abuse, threats of force and other serious harm and, at times, degrading living conditions, to compel him to work extensive hours for minimal pay.

“These defendants engaged in an egregious bait-and-switch, luring the victim with false promises of an education in the United States and instead subjecting him to grueling hours, degrading living conditions, and a litany of mental and physical abuse,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Forced labor and human trafficking are abhorrent crimes that have no place in our society, and I am grateful to our team of prosecutors, agents, and support staff for ensuring that justice was done in this case,” attorney said.

“The defendants exploited the victim’s trust and his desire to attend school in the United States, and then inflicted physical and mental abuse against him, all so they could keep him working for their profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

He added, “Human trafficking is a disgraceful and unacceptable crime, and this verdict should send the very clear message that the Justice Department will investigate and vigorously prosecute these cases to hold human traffickers accountable and bring justice to their victims.”

“These convictions demonstrate the FBI’s commitment to seeking justice for victims of human trafficking and should also serve as a reminder to those who seek to engage in this illegal activity,” said Special Agent in Charge Stanley M. Meador of the FBI Richmond Field Office.

He added, “We will continue working with our local, state and federal partners to aggressively identify, investigate and bring those responsible to justice.”

In 2018, the defendants enticed the victim, then a minor, to travel to the United States with false promises of helping enrol him in school, federal prosecutors alleged. After arriving in the United States, the defendants took his immigration documents and immediately put him to work.

They also left the victim at the store to sleep in a back office for days at a time on multiple occasions, limited his access to food, refused to provide medical care or education, used surveillance equipment to monitor the victim both at the store and in their home, refused his requests to return to India, and made him overstay his visa.

According to court documents, the evidence further showed that Singh pulled the victim’s hair, slapped and kicked him when he requested his immigration documents back and tried to leave, and on three different occasions threatened the victim with a revolver for trying to take a day off and for trying to leave.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 8. Singh and Kaur face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, up to five years of supervised release, a fine of up to USD 250,000, and mandatory restitution for the forced labour charge. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the US Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. (ANI)

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