DA charges Gilroy couple with human trafficking, locking man in liquor store to work 7 days a week

GILROY, Calif. (KGO) -- A Gilroy husband and wife have been charged with human trafficking for 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, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office said.

In a release, the DA's office said Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, are accused of threatening the victim with deportation if he told the truth to law enforcement.

An investigation estimates that the couple, who own a profitable liquor store and market, stole more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees. Officials believe the Manns engaged in predatory recruitment of their workers from India and lured them with promises of travel and financial independence.

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The Manns face charges of labor human trafficking, witness intimidation, and wage theft involving a total of four victims. They will be arraigned Monday afternoon at 1:35 p.m. at the Hall of Justice in San Jose. If convicted of the felonies, they could face prison time.

"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."

The DA's office said in late Feb. 2020, an Alcoholic Beverage Control inspection discovered the victim at M&M Liquors located on Westwood Drive in Gilroy. The agent contacted a man who appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store, which is a major red flag for human trafficking, officials say.

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.

The investigation further concluded that the man had flown from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the U.S. with the couple. Instead, 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 marathon hours and were paid a pittance. One said he had no idea about the concept of a minimum wage.

Stay with ABC7 News for the latest details on this developing story.
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