Defendants Vishnubhai Chaudhari, 50, and Leelabahen Chaudhari, 44, of Kimball, Nebraska, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Omaha, Nebraska, to one count of conspiracy and one count of alien harboring for financial gain, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Robert C. Stuart of the District of Nebraska, and Special Agent in Charge Alex Khu of St. Paul ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to documents filed in court, the defendants admitted to conspiring to harbor the victim, an Indian national who lacked immigration status, at a Super 8 Motel in Kimball, Nebraska, between October 2011 and February 2013. During that time, the defendants required the victim to work long hours, seven days a week at the motel, performing manual labor, including cleaning rooms, shoveling snow, and doing laundry. Although the defendants promised to pay the victim, they never did, but rather claimed to apply that amount to a debt the victim owed. The defendants further restricted the victim’s movement, isolated him, and verbally abused him. Defendant Vishnubhai Chaudhari also threatened to find the victim if he ever left the motel, and defendant Leelabahen Chaudhari regularly assaulted the victim, including on one occasion when she slapped his face several times because he had failed to clean a bathtub to her standards. The victim eventually escaped with the help of a motel guest and local law enforcement.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 19, 2018, before the Honorable Laurie Smith Camp. The defendants face a possible sentence of up to 18 months in prison according to their plea agreements, and they are expected to be removed from the United States at the completion of their sentences. The defendants also paid the victim $40,000 in restitution at today’s change of plea hearing as a condition of their guilty pleas.
“Motivated by their greed, the defendants violated the immigration laws and exploited a vulnerable individual who lacked immigration status,” said Acting Assisting Attorney General Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will use its resources to proactively prosecute persons who, like the defendants, unlawfully victimize others for their own monetary profit.”
“This case is a reminder that forced labor occurs in the United States, not just overseas, and federal law targets those who profit from human trafficking and related crimes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Robert C. Stuart of the District of Nebraska. “This case is a testament that such conduct will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted in the District of Nebraska.”
“Human trafficking is the modern world’s version of enslaving another person for profit. That is what these individuals have done to this victim,” said Special Agent in Charge Alex Khu of HSI St. Paul. “I’m proud of the work accomplished by HSI’s special agents, our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska, and the Department of Justice, who made these guilty pleas possible.”
The case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations, and was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Olimpia Michel and Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick D. Franklin of the District of Nebraska.