Human trafficking victims came from India, Nepal, to testify against California couple

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After an 11-day trial, a federal jury found Satish Kartan, 45, and his wife, Sharmistha Barai, 40, guilty on March 14 of conspiracy to obtain forced labor and two counts of obtaining forced labor.

In addition, Kartan was found guilty of fraud in foreign labor contracting. Kartan and Barai are scheduled to be sentenced on June 6. Each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Victims flew from India and Nepal to testify. According to evidence presented at trial, the defendants struck one worker on multiple occasions. Barai threatened to kill her and throw her bones in the garbage, backhanded her across the face for talking back, and slammed her hands down on a gas stove, causing her to suffer first and second degree burns on her hands from the flames. The couple also threatened several other victims to coerce them to keep working, including by telling the victims they would report them to police or immigration authorities if they tried to leave. Throughout the victims’ time in the defendants’ home, they were deprived of sleep and food. The defendants subjected the victims to verbal abuse and harassment in an effort to intimidate them into continuing to provide labor and services.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, made the announcement in a March 18 press release.

“Human trafficking is a disgraceful and unacceptable crime. The defendants in this case took advantage of overseas workers, forcing them to work without pay, physically abusing them, and threatening negative repercussions if they tried to leave,” Dreiband is quoted saying in the press release. “The Justice Department will continue to investigate and vigorously prosecute human traffickers in order to bring justice to victims.”

“The Diplomatic Security Service will continue to pursue those who abuse domestic worker visas to manipulate and exploit their employees for personal gain,” said Matthew Perlman, special agent in charge of the of the Diplomatic Security Service San Francisco Field Office.

“Kartan and Barai did not simply fail to pay victims for their work,” said Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI Field Office, adding, “They deprived them of their dignity and robbed them of their federally protected civil rights.”

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, between February 2014 and October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired workers from overseas to perform domestic labor in their home in Stockton. In advertisements seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, the defendants made false claims regarding the wages and the duties of employment. Then, once the workers arrived at the defendants’ Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai forced them to work 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment.

Few of them were paid any wage. The domestic workers were kept at home by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them, investigators found. When a victim pushed back or said she wanted to leave, it got worse, they said.

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