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Rich pair guilty in ‘slavery’ case

Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani (The Spokesman-Review)

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – A jury on Monday convicted a millionaire couple of enslaving two Indonesian women they brought to their mansion to work as housekeepers.

Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, and his wife, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 45, were each convicted of all charges in a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and harboring aliens.

Prosecutors said the women were subjected to repeated psychological and physical abuse and were forced to work 18 hours or more a day.

The Sabhnanis, who have four children and operate a worldwide perfume business out of their Muttontown home on Long Island’s Gold Coast, could face up to 40 years in prison, although attorneys predicted the punishment would be considerably less. He is from India, and she is from Indonesia, but both are naturalized U.S. citizens.

As the verdict was read, one of the couple’s daughters, Dakshina, collapsed in the front row, prompting the judge to clear the courtroom while medical personnel attended to her. Soon after, her mother went to comfort her, and she also fainted.

Both women were taken to a hospital, leading the judge to postpone the remaining court proceedings until today, including the scheduling of a sentencing date.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Hoffman said he would appeal. “Apparently, the jury was taken by the histrionics” of the Indonesian women, he said.

Prosecutors refused to comment until court proceedings were completed.

Over six weeks of testimony, prosecutors called it a case of “modern-day slavery.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said in closing arguments the poorly educated women worked as housekeepers for $100 or $150 a month – all of which was sent to their relatives back home.

Lesko said the women, known only as Samirah and Enung, were subjected to “punishment that escalated into a cruel form of torture” that ended when one of the women fled on Mother’s Day.


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