An Indian American couple in Gilroy, California, were arrested Nov. 6 and charged with human trafficking for virtually enslaving an employee by making him work 15 hours a day, 7 days a week in their liquor store without pay, forcing him to sleep on a mattress in a back room at the store, and not letting him leave the premises.
Balwinder Mann and his wife Amarjit, 66, were arraigned Nov. 10 and charged with nine felonies, including: labor human trafficking, false imprisonment, wage theft, conspiracy, and witness intimidation, according to the Santa Clara, California District Attorney’s office and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
If convicted of the felonies, the Manns could face prison time. They were released on bail of $1 million apiece, posted by their son, and are currently under house arrest in their home in the Gilroy hills. The couple have had to surrender their passports and are being surveilled via GPS monitors.
The victim has not been named. He reportedly flew from India to the U.S. in October 2019 expecting to travel the country with the Manns. Instead, the couple allegedly confiscated his money and his passport and put him to work, not allowing him to have a key to the store so that he was unable to leave.
The couple also allegedly severely underpaid three other workers at their other stores, who also have not been named. The Manns have allegedly stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees, according to the District Attorney’s office. They lured their workers from India with promises of travel and financial independence.
The crimes came to light in February while the ABC was investigating an incident of the victim allegedly selling liquor to a minor. During the investigation, detectives for the ABC found that the victim — who worked at the M&M liquor store owned by the Manns — was sleeping on 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 office.
The Manns threatened the victim and the other workers with deportation if they told investigators about their circumstances, added the DA’s office. They were allegedly coerced into saying that they were simply “helping out” at the stores. Balwinder Mann told the ABC that the victim was his nephew.
“Slavery officially was abolished in 1865,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a press statement. “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.”
The Mercury News reported that the victim eventually mustered up the courage to leave the store and flee to a safehouse, with the help of human trafficking advocates. He wrote an affidavit about his situation, in which he said he continued to work for the Manns because he had no other options, and did not want to tell his family back in India what had happened to him. While entrapped, according to the affidavit, the victim was allowed to leave the store just once: to go to the San Jose gurdwara on New Year’s Day.
Forced labor is a situation in which victims are forced to work against their own will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment, according to the ABC. Their freedom is restricted, and a degree of ownership is exerted.
Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude, agricultural labor, sweatshop factory labor, janitorial, food service and other service industry labor, and begging, as defined by the ABC.