CRIME

Subway Owners Arrested After Human Trafficking Investigation

11/21/2013 05:04 pm ET

Married couple Amrutlal Patel and Dakshaben Patel were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly harboring and employing illegal aliens in their four Subway Restaurants in Lexington, Ky. The arrests were made after a 3-month human trafficking investigation.

One of their Subways was raided shortly after they were taken into custody, as reported by local NBC affiliate WLEX-TV. Three of the Patels' employees, all Indian nationals illegally in the United States, were brought to the Lexington Police Department for questioning, according to official court documents obtained by The Huffington Post.

Authorities were alerted in August, when the manager of the four Subway restaurants -- a legal U.S. citizen whose name was not released -- reported that "bad things" were happening in the Patels' Subway restaurants, according to a statement that Homeland Security agent David A. Ramalho's filed in the U.S. District Court.

According to Ramalho's statement, the manager claimed that the couple had been involved in a "coercive scheme to compel the undocumented Indian nationals" to work at their Lexington Subway restaurants since September 2012. The manager contacted authorities after a plea from one of the workers, referred to only as "Danny," who told the manager he would rather go to jail than continue living with the Patels, according to Ramalho's testimony.

The Subway manager told authorities that the four men were transported each day to their respective Subway restaurants, where they worked shifts up to 14 hours long. They were then returned to the Patels' home and were not permitted to leave the house. At night, they were allegedly locked in a hidden basement room and shared one giant mattress, as summarized by Ramalho.

Ramalho's testimony also states that the manager claimed each of the workers were paying off a debt of around $100,000 owed to the couple. He went on to say that one of the workers told the Subway manager that the interest rate was 13 percent.

The fate of the workers remains unclear.

Mark Wohlander, an attorney for Dakshaben Patel, has already denied many of the claims made by the Subway employees, including the allegation that they were forced to sleep in a basement room, according to The Lexington Herald-Leader. In a Thursday interview with the outlet, Wohlander said the Patels were just trying to help their employees.

"It's my sense that if they did anything wrong, which at this point we're not acknowledging, it was simply out of a cultural response to people who were in need," said Wohlander.

Restaurant workers in the United States are common victims of mistreatment, particularly those who were born outside the U.S., according to anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project. The group says that employment becomes "trafficking" when employers use force, coercion or restriction to "intimidate the worker and to make the worker believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue working." Polaris also notes that restaurant workers are particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation, due to poor industry standards.

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