GILROY — A couple has been charged with human trafficking on allegations they duped a man who traveled from India into working at their liquor store under literal lock and key, and grossly underpaid three other people in their employ, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, are further accused of luring the victims to the United States with promises of traveling the country and gaining steady work, but instead exploiting them, prosecutors said. In a statement, District Attorney Jeff Rosen likened the conditions of one reported victim to modern-day slavery.
In a news release, prosecutors stated that this victim “worked 15 hour shifts, seven days a week, slept in a storage room, bathed in a mop bucket, and was never paid.”
The victim whose experiences comprise the most serious charges flew to the country in 2019 expecting to travel with the Manns, but “they took his money and passport and put him to work without pay or a key to leave the liquor store at night,” according to the district attorney’s office.
Suspicion about the activities at the liquor store surfaced most recently when an inspector with the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control encountered an employee at M&M liquors who “appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store,” which had a thin mattress slung over milk crates, an office desk being used as a dresser, and some evidence suggesting the man was bathing from a mop sink, according to prosecutors.
That touched off an investigation by the state regulatory agency that also found the basis for allegations that three other employees of the Manns — two at the liquor store and another at a nearby market — were working “marathon hours and were paid a pittance” and did not know they were entitled to minimum wage.
The investigation further contends that the Manns coached written statements from the victims to attest to inspectors that they were freely and voluntarily working for the couple from whom they received free room and board, and were being taken care of because COVID-19 prevented their return to India.
The Manns were charged Friday with nine felony counts encompassing human trafficking, witness intimidation, false imprisonment, wage theft and conspiracy. They were scheduled for arraignment Monday in a San Jose courtroom.
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