NRI multimillionaire sentenced to three years in prison in Long Island slavery case

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New York, June 28 : A Non-Resident Indian based in Long Island, New York has been sentenced to three years in prison for torturing two of his Indonesian maids.

Mahender Sabhnani, a multimillionaire perfume maker, has been accused of holding the Indonesian maids as slaves with the help of his wife, Varsha.

Mahender, 51, was sentenced to a prison term of three and one-third years and fined 12,500 dollars. He was convicted in December on a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labour, conspiracy, involuntary servitude and harbouring aliens, the New York Daily News reports.

The victims had then testified that they were beaten with brooms and umbrellas, slashed with knives, and forced to climb stairs and take freezing showers for misdeeds that included sleeping late or stealing food from the trash because they were poorly fed.

On Thursday, Sabhnani tearfully watched as his wife, Varsha, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. On Friday, she dabbed her eyes as she saw her husband meet his own fate.

Prosecutors contended Varsha Sabhnani was primarily responsible for inflicting years of abuse on the poorly educated servants.

Her husband, they said, allowed the conduct to take place and benefited from the work the women performed in their two million dollar home; he operated the business from an adjacent office.

Judge Arthur Spatt conceded that Mahender Sabhnani did not personally inflict abuse, but said he must have been aware of it.

"He's a success story: The immigrant who came to this country and succeeded in business. He had to know all these dreadful things and did nothing," said the judge.

The husband is originally from India, and the wife from Indonesia. Both are naturalized U.S. citizens.

One of the workers arrived in the Sabhnanis' Muttontown home in 2002; the second came in 2005. The Sabhnanis immediately confiscated the servants' passports and other travel documents, the women testified.

Prosecutors said the "punishment that escalated into a cruel form of torture" ended in May 2007, when one of the women fled in the early morning hours of Mother's Day. She wandered into a Dunkin' Donuts wearing nothing but rags, and employees called police.

The couple's grown four children sat stoically in the front row as the sentence was announced.

A hearing on whether the couple must forfeit their Long Island mansion was postponed until July 11.

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