Indian American couple convicted after forcing cousin to work at gas station in US

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An Indian-origin Sikh couple has been found guilty of exploiting their cousin by compelling him to work extended hours at their store, subjecting him to physical abuse, threats, and confiscating his immigration documents, a US attorney has said. Harmanpreet Singh, 30, and Kulbir Kaur, 43, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit forced labour and other charges after the pair forced the victim, Singh’s cousin, to work at Singh’s North Chesterfield convenience store for little pay, the Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday.

According to court documents, the victim – who was a minor at the time – came to the US in 2018 after the couple promised to help him enrol in school. After arriving, Singh and Kaur took the boy’s immigration documents and immediately put him to work, prosecutors said. According to court documents, the victim was forced to sleep in an office inside the store for days at a time. He was denied access to food, and the couple also refused his requests to return to India and forced him to overstay his visa.

Prosecutors said Singh also slapped and kicked the victim when he requested his immigration documents and tried to leave. On several occasions, Singh also threatened the victim with a gun when he tried to take a day off and leave the store. Prosecutors said the abuse and forced labour started in March 2018 and continued through May 2021. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said the Singh couple 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.

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“These defendants engaged in an egregious bait-and-switch, luring the victim with false promises of an education in the United States and instead subjecting him to gruelling hours, degrading living conditions and a litany of mental and physical abuse,” said US Attorney Jessica D Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Forced labour and human trafficking are abhorrent crimes that have no place in our society, and I am grateful to our team of prosecutors, agents and support staff for ensuring that justice was done in this case,” Aber said.

A sentencing hearing 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 USD 250,000 and mandatory restitution for the forced labour charge.