16 May 2007

You heard it here first: Rich Long Island couple charged with keeping slaves

Yesterday we reported when a Dunkin Donuts' manager in Syosset called 911 about a distressed woman, the police were led to a mansion in (thanks for)Muttontown, Long Island. Now, federal prosecutors say that weathly couple Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and Mahender Marliddhar Sabhnani kept two Indonesian woman as prisoners in their home.

From Gothamist: U.S. Attorney Demetri Jones said, "The conduct the defendants committed is monstrous. It's truly a case of modern-day slavery." The Sabhnanis allegedly asked Samirah to work from them while traveling in Indonesia, offering $300/month - and it seems that only $100 was paid to Samirah's daughter. She and the other victim "Nona" were allegedly forced to sleep on mats, fed little food, hide when company came, threatened with violence and work 21-hour days. According to the Post, Nona was forced to "to take as many as 30 ice-cold showers in a row, run up and down a flight of stairs 150 times as fast as she could - and gulp down at least 25 'extremely hot chili peppers at one time.'" Nona was found by the police in a 3' by 3' closet under the stairs.

The Sabhnanis, who run a multi-million dollar perfume business out of their home and own an apartment in Manhattan, were held without bail yesterday. Their bail hearing is scheduled for tomorrow, and the U.S. Attorney says the couple is a flight risk, given their resources and family in Asia. The Sabhnanis' lawyers say that the couple have four children in the country and want to clear their names. One lawyer said, "What we have here is one person’s version of what happened. There are no allegations of slave trading. This is basically an assault allegation by one person.” The lawyer, Charles Ross, added that since the couple traveled so much, there was opportunity for the two women to flee. Interestingly, they have separate lawyers; the wife, Varsha Sabhnani, is accused of most inflicting most of the violence.

The Dunkin' Donuts manager Adrian Mohammed told Newsday that he offered Samirah a coffee and gave her his jacket to wear: "The only English she said was 'home' as she pulled out her Indonesian passport and started pointing and crying and saying she wanted to go home." When he and another customer who worked at a nursing home discovered bruises on Samirah's arms and scars behind Samirah's ear, Mohammed called 911.

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