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Indian-origin couple in USA found guilty of forcing kin into labour
Virginia
Photo Courtesy: Unsplash

Indian-origin couple in USA found guilty of forcing kin into labour

| @indiablooms | 26 Jun 2024, 06:42 pm

An Indian-origin Virginia couple has been sentenced for compelling the labour of the man’s younger cousin at their gas station and convenience store for over three years.

The couple has since divorced.

"Harmanpreet Singh, 31, was sentenced to 135 months in prison and Kulbir Kaur, 43, was sentenced to 87 months in prison," US Department of Justice said in a statement.

 Additionally, the court ordered Singh and Kaur to pay the victim $225,210.76 in restitution.

“The defendants exploited their relationship with the victim to lure him to the United States with false promises that they would help enroll him in school,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The defendants confiscated the victim’s immigration documents and subjected him to threats, physical force and mental abuse to coerce him to work long hours for minimal pay.

This sentence should send a strong message that such forced labor will not be tolerated in our communities.

The Justice Department is committed to fully enforcing our federal human trafficking statutes to vindicate the rights of survivors and hold human traffickers accountable for such shameful exploitation of vulnerable victims.”

“The crimes committed by these defendants are not merely violations of the law; they are an afront to humanity,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “These defendants preyed on the victim’s earnest desire to attain an education and improve his life. Instead, they deprived him of the most basic human needs and robbed him of his freedom. We remain steadfastly committed to securing justice for victims of human trafficking.”

“The defendants lured the victim to travel from India to Virginia to work at their gas station where they exploited him for over three year,” said Assistant Director Michael Nordwall of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI will continue to work in all communities to stop forced labor trafficking and the psychological and physical violence that comes with it.”

Following a two-week trial in January, a federal jury in the Eastern District of Virginia convicted Singh and Kaur of conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, harboring for financial gain and document servitude. The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that, in 2018, the defendants enticed the victim, Singh’s cousin and then a minor, to travel to the United States from India with false promises of helping enroll him in school. After the victim arrived in the United States, the defendants took his immigration documents and instead forced him to provide labor and services at Singh’s store for over three years, between March 2018 and May 2021.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Singh and Kaur compelled the victim to work at the store — including cleaning, cooking, stocking and handling the cash register and store records — between 12 to 17 hours a day, nearly every day, for minimal pay.

Singh and Kaur used various coercive means, including confiscating the victim’s immigration documents and subjecting the victim to physical abuse, threats of force and other serious harm, and, at times, degrading living conditions to compel him to continue working.

The evidence further showed that the defendants 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.

 The defendants also forced the victim to marry Kaur and used that marriage to threaten to take the victim’s family’s properties or falsely report him to the police if he left.

The evidence 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.

The FBI Richmond Field Office investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Avi Panth and Peter S. Duffey for the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Matthew Thiman of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.

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