Washington: An Indian-American from California has been sentenced to 188 months in prison for forced labour violations, and ordered to pay USD 15,657 in restitution to three victims, in part to cover their back wages and other losses, the US Department of Justice said on Thursday.

The 46-year-old Satish Kartan and his wife Sharmistha Barai (40) were found guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labour and two counts of obtaining forced labour by a federal grand jury on March 14, 2019 after an 11-day trial.

Barai was also sentenced to a similar term of 15 years and eight months in prison for forced labour violations on October 2.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, between February 2014 and October 2016, the couple hired workers from overseas to perform domestic labour in their home in Stockton.

In advertisements seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, they made false claims about the wages and conditions of employment. Once the workers arrived at the defendants’ Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai compelled them to work up to 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment. Few of them were paid any wage.

As part of the conspiracy, the couple kept the domestic workers from leaving and coerced them to continue working by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them. When a victim resisted or expressed a desire to leave, the threats and abuse became worse, the Department of Justice said.

“The sentence imposed today sends a stern message that human trafficking and forced labour will not be tolerated in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Their role in this scheme to compel the victims into servitude for up to 18 hours a day, with minimal pay, through intimidation, threats, and violence, is an unconscionable and illegal criminal violation of the victims’ individual rights, freedom, and dignity, he said.

“Kartan earned his sentence by the systematic abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women for the benefit of his wife and family,” said US Attorney McGregor Scott for the Eastern District of California.

“He verbally abused multiple victims, withheld basic sustenance from them, and physically intimidated them. Today’s sentence will send a loud message to others engaged in human trafficking and labour. Moreover, it will give Kartan’s victims the peace of mind that he will never be able to abuse them again,” he alleged.

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