GILROY - On November 9, 2020, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced that a Gilroy husband and wife have been charged with human trafficking for allegedly locking a man in a liquor store where he worked 15-hour shifts, seven days a week, slept in a storage room, bathed in a mop bucket and was never paid.
Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, are accused of threatening the victim with deportation if he told the truth to law enforcement. The Manns face charges of labor human trafficking, witness intimidation, and wage theft involving a total of four victims. If convicted of the felonies, they could face prison time.
An investigation estimates that the suspects – who own a liquor store and market - had stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees. The Manns are accused of engaging in predatory recruitment of their workers from India and luring them with promises of travel and financial independence.
According to the District Attorney’s office, in late February 2020, a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) inspection discovered the victim at M&M Liquors located on Westwood Drive in Gilroy. ABC agents contacted a man who appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store – a major red flag for human trafficking. Agents noted a thin mattress lying over milk crates, an office desk contained folded clothes in each drawer. On top of the desk there were pots and pans for cooking and next to the desk, there was a mop sink with a faucet approximately three feet off the ground and a shampoo bottle. Investigators later learned the victim was bathing from the mop sink.
“ABC agents are peace officers with good instincts and great training, and I am relieved that the victim of this crime has been rescued,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “This is why law enforcement officers don’t treat a call, inspection or undercover investigation as ‘routine’. They have to keep your eyes and ears open for suspected criminal activity.”
The investigation further concluded that the victim had flown from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the U.S. with the couple. Instead the Manns allegedly took his money and passport and put him to work without pay or a key to leave the liquor store at night.
Three other men – two who worked at the liquor store and one who worked at the market across the street - told agents that they worked marathon hours and were paid a pittance. One said he had no idea about the concept of a minimum wage.
“Slavery officially was abolished in 1865,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “Tragically, we are seeing examples of it in 2020. My Office will prosecute anyone to the fullest extent of the law who practices this kind of criminal and inhumane exploitation.”