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US: Family indicted in 'slavery' case of Indian maid

July 09, 2008 21:59 IST

In yet another 'slavery' case, an Indian woman, her husband who is deputy sheriff in Forsyth County, Georgia, and her father–in-law, a former Fulton County magistrate judge, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on human trafficking charges.

Malika Garrett, 42, husband Russell Garrett, 43, and William Garrett Jr, 72, were indicted on nine counts including alien harboring, witness tampering, and making false statements. The former judge faces two counts only —- conspiring to induce a nanny to enter the United States under false pretences, and making false statements.

The indictment alleges that in January 2003, the three defendants conspired to bring an Indian woman, identified only as 'RS', to the United States to serve as a nanny for Malika's children. Her husband and father in law faxed recommendations to the US consulate in Kolkata, seeking a tourist visa for 'RS'. The visa was processed, and 'RS' began work as a nanny in February 3, 2003. But when she applied to extend her tourist visa in January 2004, it was rejected.

Once the visa was denied, 'RS' was moved from her upstairs room to the unfinished basement, where no heat was provided. She was not paid a salary; she was kept in isolation, prevented from leaving the house, banned from contact with the neighbours, and her telephone calls were monitored.

They complaint alleges that RS was forced to work sixteen hours a day. Malika began to insult and intimidate her, told her she was a criminal and that she could be jailed for an extended period of time. They also told her false stories about what happens to illegal aliens who leave their host families, stressing that illegal aliens are discovered, arrested, jailed for long periods under horrible conditions, and ultimately deported. Malika and her husband also threatened to have RS deported if she did not stay and work in their home, and threatened to malign RS to her friends and family in India if she left.

RS fled the home in June 2005. The Garetts tried to get her back, the indictment said. Malika and her husband also conspired to spread vicious, false rumors about her, accusing her of theft. Malika then reported RS's illegal status to immigration authorities, and told the Department of Homeland Security that RS had engaged in terrorism-related activities.

United States Attorney David E. Nahmias said, "This case is an example of alleged domestic servitude of a nanny brought over from India. This type of abuse is insidious, as it preys upon those who are vulnerable due to their immigration status and unfamiliarity with this country's legal system".

"Not paying someone for their hard work, and then threatening them with deportation if they report such abuse, is a violation of federal civil rights laws. The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute this form of modern day slavery," he added.

If convicted, Malika faces a maximum penalty of 60 years' imprisonment; her husband a maximum penalty of 50 years; and father in law faces a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. They could also end up losing their house and property.

Patrick Crosby, a spokesperson for the US attorney, told that the office was not revealing details regarding the three year delay in filing charges as investigations are ongoing. He also did not speak to where RS is presently located.

Manny Arora, who represented the Garretts at a court hearing, said the family has for some time been aware of the ongoing investigations. "This case is really absurd," he said. "The lady wanted to remain in America, and she found it the easiest way is to accuse those who brought her over with illegal things."

Noting that RS had never complained to anyone while she was with the Garretts, the attorney told, "The family lives in a very nice neighbourhood. The woman never said anything bad about the Garretts. I challenge anyone to prove that there is work for sixteen hours a day for any one in a small family. If the parents were ill-treating the woman, would they entrust their small children to her care?"

Arora said the family was disappointed that the government had indicted. "While I'm sure the government thinks it's doing the right thing, they're flat-out wrong," he said.

The case was brought by both the US Attorney's Office and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington. The Garretts appeared before US Magistrate E Clayton Scofield III and entered pleas of not guilty. They were granted bond. Russell Garrett, who began working at the Sheriff's Department in August 2002, has been placed on administrative leave.

George Joseph