US court sentences Indian-origin couple to 11 years of jail for forcing cousin to work under guise of education

The family had brought the boy to the country under the guise of helping with his school enrollment.

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An Indian-American couple was sentenced to prison by a US court for forcing their cousin to work for them for more than three years at their convenience store and petrol station.  They had brought him to the country under the guise of helping with his school enrollment.

The court sentenced Harmanpreet Singh, 31, to 135 months (11.25 years) in prison and Kulbir Kaur, 43, to 87 months (7.25 years). The court also ordered them to pay USD 2,25,210.76 (about Rs 1.87 crores) in reparation to the victim, his cousin.

The Eastern District of Virginia's US Attorney, Jessica D. Aber, claimed that the defendants took advantage of the victim's sincere desire to better his life and pursue an education. Rather they took away his freedom, the most fundamental human necessity, said the lawyer.

As per the Department of Justice, the trial's evidence proved that the defendants lured Singh's cousin, who was at the time a juvenile, to fly to the US from India in 2018 by making false claims that they would assist with his school enrollment.

According to the report, the victim was forced to work for Singh's store for more than three years, from March 2018 to May 2021, after the defendants stole his immigration paperwork. According to the evidence given during the trial, Singh and Kaur forced the victim to work at the business for little pay for between 12 and 17 hours a day, almost every day, performing tasks including cooking, cleaning, stocking, and handling the cash register and store records.

The evidence demonstrated that they employed a variety of coercive tactics to force the victim to continue working, including seizing his immigration documents, abusing him physically, threatening him with violence or other serious damage, and even putting him in subpar living conditions.

Based on the evidence, the couple used surveillance equipment to monitor the victim both at the store and at home, denied his requests to return to India, forced him to overstay his visa, restricted his access to food, refused to provide medical care or education, and left him sleeping in a back office for days on multiple occasions.

Additionally, the defendants coerced the victim into marrying Kaur, then threatened to seize the victim's family's belongings or fabricate a police report if the victim fled.

The evidence also revealed that when the victim tried to leave or asked for his immigration paperwork back, Singh bullied him by kicking, slapping, and yanking his hair. He threatened to shoot the victim with a revolver three separate times for attempting to take a day off and leave.