A Gilroy couple who own a liquor store are facing charges of human trafficking, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced Nov. 9.
Amarjit and Balwinder Mann, both 66, the owners of M&M Liquors on Westwood Drive, are accused of locking a man in the 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 Manns face charges of labor human trafficking, witness intimidation, and wage theft involving a total of four victims.
Their arraignment was scheduled this week in Department 24 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose. If convicted of the felonies, they could face prison time.
Both have been booked into Santa Clara County Jail without bail.
The Mann’s charges come more than two years after what labor and victim advocates say was one of the more egregious examples of trafficking in recent memory.
Developer Full Power Properties was fined $250,000 in 2018 by the Department of Labor for hiring an unlicensed contractor, Nobilis Construction.
Federal prosecutors said Nobilis owner Job Torres Hernandez forced undocumented Mexican immigrants to work long hours without pay at a luxury residential development in downtown San Jose then called Silvery Towers but now known as 188 W. Saint James. The workers were forced to sleep in a locked shipping container by night.
In that case, Torres was sentenced to more than eight years in prison and ordered to pay about $920,000 in unpaid wages.
According to the DA, the trafficking at M&M Liquors was discovered during an Alcoholic Beverage Control inspection in late February, when an agent spoke to a man who appeared to be living in a small storage room in the back area of the store.
The agent noted a thin mattress lying over milk crates, and an office desk containing folded clothes in each drawer.
On 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, per the DA.
The investigation concluded the man had flown from India in 2019 expecting to travel to the U.S. with the Manns. Instead, they reportedly took his money and passport and put him to work without pay or a key to leave the liquor store at night, the DA’s Office stated.
Three other men—two who worked at the liquor store and one who worked at a market further away on Westwood Drive—reportedly told agents that they worked marathon hours and were paid a pittance.
An investigation estimates that the suspects had stolen more than $150,000 in wages from the victim and three other employees.
“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.”
Janice Bitters contributed to the story.