SAN JOSE — A Gilroy couple charged with human trafficking on allegations they forced a man to live and work at their liquor store for free — and severely underpaid other migrant employees — have been granted house arrest with strict conditions while they mount their legal defense.
After their arraignment Tuesday, Balwinder and Amarjit Mann, 66, were set to be released to their lavish 6,000-square foot home in the hills above Gilroy.
Under restrictions set by Judge Ronald Toff in a San Jose courtroom, the Manns will be subject to GPS monitoring and unannounced searches, and will be prohibited from leaving Santa Clara County, with some allowances to leave home for medical and attorney appointments.
The Manns also surrendered their passports, and were required to post bond on $250,000 bail apiece; their son-in-law told the court Tuesday he was prepared to post for them. After they were charged and subsequently arrested over the weekend, their bail had been set at $1 million.
The Manns were charged with nine felonies encompassing human trafficking, witness intimidation, false imprisonment, at least $120,000 worth of wage theft and conspiracy. They did not enter a plea Tuesday and were ordered back to court Jan. 19.
According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, one man whose experiences comprised the most serious charges “worked 15 hour shifts, seven days a week, slept in a storage room, bathed in a mop bucket, and was never paid.”
This man is said to have flown from India to the United States in October 2019 expecting to travel the country 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,” prosecutors allege.
The defendants fell under criminal investigation in February when agents with the state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted a decoy sting for underage alcohol sales at Gavilan Market, and a random inspection of M&M Liquors, both of which are located on Westwood Drive and owned by the Manns.
At the liquor store, agents suspected that a man who claimed to be an employee of the liquor store was actually living there, which they confirmed after conducting surveillance on the business, according to an investigative report by ABC.
An ensuing investigation eventually joined by DA investigators and the San Jose Police Department identified three other employees for the Manns’ businesses who said they routinely worked more than 12 hours a day and were unaware of minimum wage.
The ABC report states that Balwinder Mann told agents, “well, let’s call him my nephew” in response to questions about his claims the victims were family members or friends, and that they were “just helping out.” Agents also allege that the man who lived in the liquor store was coerced into telling investigators that he was voluntarily working at the store and was given free room and board at the Manns’ home.
This man, who eventually fled to a safehouse with the help of authorities, later stated in an affidavit that he was locked in the liquor store and was allowed to leave Gilroy just once, to worship at a Sikh temple in San Jose on New Year’s Day.