GILROY, California — For some, sadly, slavery isn’t dead.
The husband-wife owners of a California liquor store have been charged with human trafficking for locking an employee in the shop and forcing him to work daily marathon shifts, sleep in a storage room and bathe using a mop bucket while never paying him.
Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, are accused of bringing the victim from India with the promise of work, but then snatching his passport and threatening him with deportation if he talked to police, the Santa Clara district attorney’s office said.
“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.”
Investigators estimate that the Manns — who own a profitable liquor store and market — have stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees. The Manns engaged in predatory recruitment of their workers from India and lured them with promises of travel and financial independence.
The Mann’s scheme began to unravel in February when an Alcoholic Beverage Control inspection discovered the victim at M&M Liquors in Gilroy, California. The agent said the man appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store, where they saw a thin mattress lying on top of milk crates. They also noticed an office desk filled with folded clothes and pots and pans for cooking.
Next to the desk, there was a mop sink and a shampoo bottle that the victim had been using to bathe.
Investigators determined that the man come from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the U.S. with the couple, but iInstead they 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 extremely long shifts but were paid a pittance. One said he had no idea about the concept of a minimum wage.
The Manns face charges of labor human trafficking, witness intimidation, and wage theft involving four victims.