RICHMOND, Va. (Diya TV) —

An Indian American couple from Virginia have been sentenced to prison for coercing a relative to work at their gas station and convenience store for over three years under false pretenses.

Harmanpreet Singh, aged 31, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and Kulbir Kaur, aged 43, received a 7 year sentence. Additionally, the court ordered them to pay $225,210.76 in restitution to the victim, who is Singh’s cousin. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division stated that the defendants took advantage of their relationship with the victim to bring him to the United States under the false pretense of helping him enroll in school.

Clarke explained, “The defendants seized the victim’s immigration documents and used threats, physical violence, and psychological abuse to force him to work long hours for minimal compensation.” She emphasized that this sentence serves as a strong deterrent against forced labor practices.

U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia noted that the defendants exploited the victim’s earnest aspiration for education and opportunities. Instead, they stripped him of basic human necessities and his freedom.

According to evidence presented at the trial, in 2018, the defendants convinced the victim, Singh’s underage cousin, to come to the U.S. from India with promises of school enrollment. Once he arrived, they confiscated his immigration documents and forced him to work at Singh’s store from March 2018 to May 2021.

The victim was made to perform tasks such as cleaning, cooking, stocking, and managing the cash register and store records, working between 12 and 17 hours daily for minimal pay. The defendants used various coercive methods, including taking his immigration documents, subjecting him to physical abuse, threats of harm, and imposing degrading living conditions to ensure his compliance.

They forced the victim to sleep in a back office at the store for several days, restricted his access to food, denied him medical care and education, and monitored him with surveillance equipment both at the store and in their home. They refused his requests to return to India and made him overstay his visa. The couple also compelled the victim to marry Kaur, using the marriage to threaten to take his family’s properties or falsely report him to the authorities if he attempted to leave.

Evidence shown in court displayed that Singh physically abused the victim when he asked for his immigration documents or tried to leave. On three occasions, Singh threatened the victim with a revolver for attempting to take a day off or leave the job.