December 17, 2007 / 11:59 PM / 10 years ago

NY couple in slavery case found guilty

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A wealthy New York couple were found guilty on Monday of forced labor charges after being accused of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves in a dramatic verdict that resulted in the wife fainting.

Indian-born Varsha Mahender Sabhnani, 35, and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, 51, were convicted of charges including forced labor, harboring illegal residents and conspiracy in what prosecutors dubbed a “case of modern-day slavery.”

Varsha Sabhnani and one of the couple’s daughters fainted after a jury in federal court in Central Islip, New York, found them guilty of 12 counts, a court official said. They each face up to 40 years in prison.

The judge ordered the jury to return Tuesday so each juror could be individually polled to confirm the verdict. Both Varsha Sabhnani and her daughter were taken to hospital for treatment.

Prosecutors said the couple, both U.S. citizens, brought two women, identified only as Samirah, 51, and Enung, 47, to the United States from Indonesia with promises to pay $200 a month for housekeeping duties.

But instead the women testified that their passports were confiscated and for years they were subjected to beatings with brooms, hot water scoldings and being forced to eat hot chili peppers in addition to carrying out household duties.

Defense lawyers had argued both women made up the story and were delusional.

Samirah was found by authorities in May wandering the streets dressed only in pants and a towel after escaping from the couple’s home in Muttontown, New York, where they ran a multimillion dollar perfume business.

She was treated at a local hospital for injuries to her ears, face, arms, neck, chest and back that she told authorities were caused by torture inflicted by Varsha Sabhnani.

Enung was found by authorities in the home hiding in a closet. Both women were forced to sleep on mats and had to steal food to get enough to eat, prosecutors said.

Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Michelle Nichols

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