Millionaires Convicted of Slavery
Posted by shadmia on June 27, 2008
Varsha Sabhnani, 46, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. She was convicted with her husband, Mahender Sabhnani, 51, in December 2007 on a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude and harboring aliens. In other words human slavery.
The Sabhnani’s of 205 Coachman Place East, Muttontown, Long Island were rich, in fact they were millionaires, who ran an international business distributing perfume. They were arrested in May 2007 by federal agents on charges of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves, since 2002, in their posh Long Island home.
“No one would ever think that human beings were being brought into the United States and held for slave labor, and beaten, and tortured in a beautiful mansion right here in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods on Long Island,” said federal prosecutor Demetri Jones
The case began to unfold when Samirah, one of the two women being held in the house, wandered away from the home and came across a Dunkin Donuts shop at 52 W. Jericho Tpke., Syosset, early Mother’s Day morning. The manager, Adrian Mohammed, who initially thought she must be a homeless person, realized that something was wrong and called the cops. When the police arrived, Samirah led them back to the Sabhnani mansion, where Nona was found, cowering in a 3-by-3-foot closet under the stairwell leading to the basement. With the help of an interpreter they told the police their story of the horrible abuse they had suffered at the hands of their employers. The Sabhnanis were arrested and eventually released on $3.5 million bail.
The women were physically abused on a regular basis, with beatings administered by Varsha in one of the house bathrooms with Mahender looking on. Varsha Sabhnani liked to mix it up a little, dealing out beating with a wide variety of instruments. Rolling pins and broomsticks were her favorite, but she wasn’t above using bamboo canes in a pinch.
Varsha threw scalding water on Samirah at one point, cut the woman behind the ears with a paring knife another time, and forced the women to eat chili peppers until they vomited – then made them eat the vomit. The women were starved, given barely enough food to survive on. Eventually things got so bad for Samirah and Nona that they started hoarding food, keeping snacks that she was able to sneak out of the kitchen in a spot above a drop-ceiling panel.
These women were forced to work 21 hour days from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. “seven days a week” according to prosecutors. When they were allowed to sleep, they had to sleep on 3-by-6 foot mats that were kept on the floor of one of the Sabhnanis two kitchens. If they slept late, they got a beating. Caught stealing food from the trashcan? That’s a beating. Looking master in the eye? Oh you can bet that’s a beating.
“In her arrogance, she treated Samirah and Enung as less than people,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Demetri Jones. “Justice for the victims: That’s what the government is asking for.”
“This did not happen in the 1800s,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said during the trial. “This happened in the 21st century. This happened in Muttontown, New York.”
Federal sentencing guidelines had recommended a range of 12 to 15 years in prison for Sabhnani, who was identified as the one who inflicted the abuse. In addition to prison, she will serve three years probation and pay a $25,000 fine.
Mahender Sabhnani, 51, who is free on bail while awaiting his own sentencing, wept as he watched his wife’s punishment pronounced. He was charged with the same crimes because he allowed the conduct to take place and benefited from the work the women performed in his home, prosecutors said. He is expected to receive a much shorter prison term.