Techies as slaves in Princeton? All about Indians-run programming racket in US

It was a two-storey brick house in Princeton, Texas, that no one seemed to notice among the other newly constructed buildings. The house is now at the centre of a massive probe by Princeton police, the scale of which it hadn’t dealt with earlier. It was, according to police, the nest of programming slaves run by four Indians.

The four Indians, including three Telugus, have been arrested but are out on bail. Fifteen women have been rescued. Police say the number of victims could well be around 50. They are expecting to make more arrests too.

At the centre of the busting of the alleged human trafficking ring in the US run by Indians were bedbugs. A pest control company was called in and what its staff saw led to the police crackdown.

Members of the pest control team saw up to five women sleeping on the floors of multiple rooms. There were a suspiciously large number of suitcases in the rooms too. And no furniture barring some folding tables and air mattresses.

The staff members contacted the police.

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Police arrested Santhosh Katkoori and his wife, Dwaraka Gunda, and two others — Chandan Dasireddy and Anil Male — on charges of human trafficking.

The lawyer for Katkoori trashed the charges against his client and said there was no forced labour involved.

The probe into the case began in March and the four were charged on July 8. All the four have been released on bond as the investigation continues.

Upon interviewing the rescued women, police found they believed they were on an internship to learn JavaScript programming, CBS News reported, citing police affidavits.

The women would apply for jobs and, after landing one, would get their salaries credited to a company run by Katkoori and his wife. The company would charge a 20% commission for that, according to the report.

A USA Today report says the women were being forced to work at multiple locations in Princeton and other nearby towns like Melissa and McKinney.

They were being forced to work for Katkoori and his wife for a series of programming shell companies owned by the couple, according to the report.

Details of how the women landed in the US are unclear at the moment.

Police won’t be revealing for now where the victims were from and how they got into forced work, and if they had opportunities to escape, according to Fox4.

US media reports also talk about men being forced to work in several locations.

MORE VICTIMS, MORE ARRESTS IN PRINCETON LIKELY

Police in Princeton believe that what they have uncovered in the bedbug-infested brick house is just the of the iceberg.

The operation, according to police, is much bigger and spans other homes, involving 50 or more victims.

“I can probably say over 100 [were involved]. Easily,” Fox4 quoted Princeton Police Seargent Carolyn Crawford as saying. She said of those 100, more than half were victims.

“We believe they may have other homes in the area for this operation as well,” CBS quoted Jesus G Rodriguez, Lieutenant at Princeton Police Department, as saying.

Rodriguez said that it was unlike any other case that Princeton police had dealt with. The US Department of Homeland Security was aiding them in deciphering the content of the laptops, mobile phones and fake documents seized from the house, he added.

The 15 victims are all in the 23-26 age group and courts will decide the course of action involving them, according to Rodriguez.

KATKOORI’S LAWYER REJECT ‘FORCED LABOUR’ CHARGES

Katkoori’s lawyer, Jeremy Rosenthal, rejected the charges and criticised the Princeton police for their “shoot-first, aim-later” approach.

“These workers were in the IT field and nothing about this was forced labour,” Rosenthal said in a statement released.

“As a simple example, they claim to have seized computers, studied the details of the operation, then made arrests. But they arrested Katkoori on the same day they seized the computers — and only a single day after the original complaint,” he added.

Neighbours said they had no idea that something as nefarious was going on in their neighbourhood as alleged by the police.

“I would’ve never thought that something like this was going on a few houses down from mine,” a neighbour, Herbert Logan, told Fox4.

With police claiming more homes were nests of the forced labour network, there could be surprises in store for several other residents of Princeton and areas surrounding it.

Published By:

India Today Web Desk

Published On:

Jul 11, 2024

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