South Asian couple keeping women as slaves house raided
May 17, 2007 - 5:17:45 PM

New York, May 17 - Federal agents again raided the mansion here of a wealthy South Asian couple who were allegedly keeping two Indonesian women as slaves for the past five years and placed the women under the care of a Catholic charity.

Federal prosecutors Mark Lesko and Demetri Jones did not comment on the reason for the fresh raid Wednesday by agents of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The South Asian couple, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 45, and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51 who run an international perfume business in the US, were arrested Tuesday for keeping the two Indonesians as slaves for the past five years at their Long Island house.

The couple has been charged under a federal law that makes it illegal to force someone to work under threat of violence. Both, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The case came to light when one of the women, identified only as Samirah, was seen wandering Sunday morning wearing only trousers and wrapped in a towel. Her face was bruised, and when shop employees tried to communicate with her, she made gestures of slapping herself and uttering what sounded to them like the word 'master', prosecutors said.

Scott Step, a spokesman for Catholic Charities, said that his group would provide the Indonesians with shelter, food and other assistance, the News Day reported.

'If the women wished, they would be entitled to special US immigration status as alleged victims of slavery, allowing them to remain in the country for at least three years before applying for permanent residency,' Step added.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian consul general in New York, Trie Ebie Mulyani, met the women along with federal agents and a federal Indonesian-speaking interpreter.

If convicted, each of the Sabhnanis face a sentence of 17-22 years in prison.

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