Long Island 'slaves' file civil suit

July 23, 2008 12:56:08 PM PDT
Two Indonesian housekeepers have filed a civil suit against a wealthy Long Island couple who kept them virtually enslaved in their home.The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Central Islip, seeks millions of dollars in damages under the federal racketeering statute.

Attorneys for the women say the couple, Varsha Sabhnani and her husband, Mahender, meet the criterion of a racketeering organization under federal law because they conspired to illegally exploit them.

Attorneys for the Muttontown couple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Sabhnanis were convicted of charges including forced labor. Varsha Sabhnani has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, her husband to 3 years and 4 months.

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 $2 million home; he operated the business from an adjacent office.

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.