The Indian managers of a Super 8 Motel in Kimball in the Nebraska Panhandle “enslaved” an immigrant for over a year, forcing him to work without pay and isolating and abusing him, the Scotts Bluff Star Herald reported Dec. 19.
Husband and wife Vishnubhai Chaudhari, 50, and Leelabahen Chaudhari, 44, pleaded guilty Dec. 18 in federal court in Omaha to one count of conspiracy and one count of harboring an alien for financial gain, a U.S. Department of Justice press release said.
The couple exploited the fact that the man – an Indian national – was in the U.S. illegally, and forced him to work seven days a week, cleaning rooms, shoveling snow, doing laundry and other chores, the release added.
“Human trafficking is the modern world’s version of enslaving another person for profit,” Alex Khu, special agent in charge of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, told the Scotts Bluff Herald. “That is what these individuals have done to this victim.”
Federal officials involved in the case could not be reached, the Scotts Bluff Herald said, nor did the Department of Justice release say what has since happened to the man, whom court documents identify as “M.C.”
“This case is a reminder that forced labor occurs in the United States, not just overseas,” said acting U.S. Attorney Robert C. Stuart of the District of Nebraska, in the release.
M.C. entered the U.S. unlawfully in 2011 and was taken into immigration custody in Texas.
According to the indictment, on Oct. 13 of that year, the Chaudharis arranged for an intermediary to pay his bond and when he was released from custody, they then arranged for his transportation from Texas to Kimball, a city 20 miles east of the Wyoming border with a population of about 2,500.
M.C. was told not to communicate with motel guests and was hidden when officers were around. The release further says Leelabahen Chaudhari “regularly assaulted” the victim, including one incident in which she slapped him repeatedly for failing to clean a bathtub to her liking. Vishnubhai Chaudhari threatened to find the man if he left the hotel, the release added.
The man eventually escaped with the help of a motel guest and local law enforcement, the release said.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 19 before Judge Laurie Smith Camp, the release said. According to their plea agreements, the pair face up to 18 months in prison. They are also in the country illegally and, according to the indictment, it is expected they will be deported once their sentence is complete.
The Scotts Bluff Herald reports that couple has paid M.C. $40,000 in restitution.
Super 8 could not be reached for comment. Wyndham Worldwide, the chain’s parent corporation, offers training to its employees on human trafficking.