Virginia Man and Woman Charged with Committing Forced Labor and Alien Harboring at Gas Station and Convenience Store for Multiple Years
Vishnubhai Chaudhari, 50, and Leelabahen Chaudhari, 44, of Kimball, Nebraska, and Indian nationals unlawfully residing in the United States, were sentenced yesterday in federal court in Omaha after previously pleading guilty on Dec. 18, 2017, to alien harboring for financial gain and conspiracy to harbor an alien, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly for the District of Nebraska, and Special Agent in Charge Tracy Cormier of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
U.S. District Court Judge Lauri Smith Camp sentenced both of the defendants to one year and one day in prison, followed by two years’ supervised release. The defendants also agreed to the entry of a stipulated judicial order of removal to India at the completion of their sentences and paid the victim $40,000 in restitution as a condition of their guilty pleas.
According to documents filed in court, the defendants admitted to conspiring to harbor the victim, who was an undocumented Indian national, at a Super 8 Motel in Kimball between October 2011 and February 2013. During that time, the defendants required the victim to work long hours, seven days a week at the motel, performing manual labor, including cleaning rooms, shoveling snow, and doing laundry. Although the defendants promised to pay the victim, they never did, but rather claimed to apply that amount to a debt the victim owed. The defendants further restricted the victim’s movement, isolated him, and verbally abused him. Defendant Vishnubhai Chaudhari also threatened to find the victim if he ever left the motel, and defendant Leelabahen Chaudhari regularly assaulted the victim, including on one occasion when she slapped his face several times because he had failed to clean a bathtub to her standards. The victim eventually escaped with the help of a motel guest and local law enforcement.
“Today’s sentence, and the restitution awarded to the victim, sends a clear message that the Justice Department will use its full resources to prosecute defendants like this one who motivated by their greed violate our immigration laws and exploit a vulnerable individual who lacked immigration status,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division.
“This case is a reminder that labor exploitation occurs in the United States, not just overseas, and federal law targets those who profit from human trafficking and related crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly for the District of Nebraska. “This case is a testament that such conduct will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted in the District of Nebraska.”
“Human trafficking is the modern world’s version of enslaving another person for profit. That is what these individuals have done to this victim,” said Special Agent in Charge Tracy Cormier of HSI St. Paul. “I’m proud of the work accomplished by HSI’s special agents, our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska, and the Department of Justice, who made these guilty pleas possible.”
The case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations, and was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Olimpia Michel and Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick D. Franklin of the District of Nebraska.