Indian-origin Sikh couple Harmanpreet Singh, 30, and Kulbir Kaur, 43, were found guilty of forcing their relative into labour in Virginia in the US. Besides, they are also accused of confiscating the relative’s immigration documents.
The couple operated a gas station and convenience store in North Chesterfield, Virginia, and allegedly forced their relative to work there for longer hours.
The convictions against them were handed down by a federal jury in the Eastern District of Virginia after a two-week trial.
The evidence presented during the trial revealed that between March 2018 and May 2021, Singh and Kaur forced Singh’s cousin, who is also of Indian origin, to provide labour and services at their store.
Singh and Kaur enticed the victim, who was a minor at the time, to travel to the United States in 2018 with false promises of helping him enrol in school. However, upon arrival, they confiscated his immigration documents.
Subsequently, the victim was forced to work as a cashier, prepare food, clean, and manage store records.
According to allegations against the couple, their relative was also subjected to physical abuse, threats, and degrading living conditions, all to compel him to work extensive hours for minimal pay.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division expressed the severity of the situation, stating, “The defendants exploited the victim’s trust and his desire to attend school in the United States, and then inflicted physical and mental abuse against him, all so they could keep him working for their profit. Human trafficking is a disgraceful and unacceptable crime, and this verdict should send the very clear message that the Justice Department will investigate and vigorously prosecute these cases to hold human traffickers accountable and bring justice to their victims.”
The victim was subjected to degrading living conditions, limited access to food, denied medical care and education, and had his movements monitored through surveillance equipment. Singh even resorted to physical abuse, such as pulling the victim’s hair, slapping and kicking him when he requested his immigration documents back, and attempting to leave.
US Attorney Jessica D Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia condemned the defendants’ actions, stating, “Forced labour and human trafficking are abhorrent crimes that have no place in our society.”
She thanked the prosecution for ensuring justice.
Special Agent in Charge Stanley M. Meador of the FBI Richmond Field Office emphasised the FBI’s commitment to seeking justice for victims of human trafficking, adding, “We will continue working with our local, state and federal partners to aggressively identify, investigate and bring those responsible to justice.”
Sentencing for Singh and Kaur is scheduled for May 8. They face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, up to five years of supervised release, a fine of up to 250,000 US Dollars, and mandatory restitution for the forced labour charge.
The FBI Richmond Field Office conducted the investigation, and Assistant US Attorneys Avi Panth and Peter S Duffey, along with Trial Attorney Matthew Thiman of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, are prosecuting the case.