Sharmistha Barai, 40, formerly of Stockton, California, was sentenced Friday, Oct. 2 to 15 years and eight months in prison for forced labor violations.
On March 14, 2019, after an 11-day trial, a federal jury found Barai and her husband Satish Kartan guilty of conspiracy to obtain forced labor and two counts of obtaining forced labor. Kartan is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 22.
“The United States abolished slavery and involuntary servitude more than 150 years ago,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Yet, inhuman forced labor and deprivations of liberty and dignity persist because human traffickers are modern-day slave masters who endeavor to exploit their fellow human beings for profit and other gruesome purposes. The sentence imposed today sends a strong message that human trafficking and forced labor will not be tolerated in the United States. The defendant’s role in this scheme to compel the victims into servitude for up to 18 hours a day, with minimal pay, through intimidation, threats, and violence, is an unconscionable violation of the victims’ individual rights, freedom, and dignity. The Civil Rights Division remains committed to relentlessly pursuing justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking and holding perpetrators accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The defendants’ horrendous conduct, done in the privacy of their home, was publicly exposed during the trial,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott of the Eastern District of California. “One by one the victims told their stories of the brutality they experienced: long hours of labor, inadequate food, and physical assault. Today’s sentence sends a clear message to others that systematic brutality against vulnerable victims will not be tolerated.”
“This sentencing sends a strong message: DSS is committed to ensuring that those who exploit and traffic individuals for personal gain will face severe consequences for their criminal actions,” said Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Matthew Perlman of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), San Francisco Field Office.
“No human being should be lured into servitude with promises of employment. This form of human trafficking is heart wrenching: victims are often assaulted and live their lives in fear behind closed doors where escape seems all but impossible,” said SAC Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “The FBI will stand with our law enforcement partners to investigate reports of human trafficking and ensure victims receive the services they need.”
“This investigation is just another unfortunate example of cruel and inhumane crimes, like labor trafficking, being committed by some of the worst violators our society has to offer. Though justice has been served, this sentence still pales in comparison to the lifelong emotional trauma the victims of these crimes are forced to live with,” said SAC Tatum King of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of San Francisco. “Homeland Security Investigations agents globally remain committed to prioritizing, identifying, rescuing and providing services and benefits to victims of crime regardless of citizenship and continue to demonstrate a laser focus to bringing criminals to justice.”
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, between February 2014 and October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired workers from overseas to perform domestic labor in their home in Stockton. In advertisements seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, the defendants made false claims about the wages and conditions of employment. Once the workers arrived at the defendants’ Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai compelled them to work up to 18 hours a day limited rest and nourishment. Few of them were paid any wage. The defendants kept the domestic workers from leaving and coerced them to continue working by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control, and disempowerment, and at times by physically hitting or burning them. When a victim resisted or expressed a desire to leave, the threats and abuse became worse.
This case is the product of an investigation by HSI, the FBI, and the State Department’s DSS. The Stockton Police Department provided the initial investigation and later assistance with victim services. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason Hitt and Katherine Lydon prosecuted the case with the assistance of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
The Eastern District of California (Sacramento) is one of six districts designated through a competitive, nationwide selection process as a Phase II Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team, through the interagency ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor. ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.