A federal court in Richmond, Virginia, sentenced three defendants on January 24 for conspiracy to commit forced labor for compelling the domestic labor of a Pakistani woman for 12 years. The victim had married into the family.
Zahida Aman, 80, was sentenced to 144 months in federal prison, Mohammed Rehan Chaudhri, 48, to 120 months in federal prison and Mohammad Nauman Chaudhri, 55, to 60 months in federal prison in the Eastern District of Virginia. Additionally, the Court ordered Aman and Rehan Chaudhri to pay the victim $250,000 in restitution for back wages and other financial losses she incurred as a result of the defendants’ criminal conduct, said a press release issued by the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors said, the three family members took steps toward the end of the conspiracy to conceal their conduct by banishing the victim, Maira Butt, from the main part of the house, limiting her access to food and basic human interactions and further separating her from her children.
According to The Roanoke Times, the impact of the forced labor and abuse was so agonizing that Butt twice tried to take her own life, by consuming rat poison on one occasion and overdosing on sleeping pills on another. The victim lost 60 pounds and clumps of her hair during the 12-year ordeal, and was physically unrecognizable to one of her brothers when he first encountered her after he traveled to the U.S. from Pakistan to learn whether she was still alive
Following a seven-day trial in May 2022, the jury convicted all of the defendants of conspiracy to commit forced labor, convicted two of the defendants of forced labor and convicted Aman of document servitude. Aman arranged for her son’s marriage to the victim in 2002, but even after the victim’s husband moved away from the home, the defendants kept the victim in their Virginia home to serve the extended family.
“These defendants callously exploited the victim’s vulnerabilities and brutally coerced her labor through physical violence and emotional abuse,” the press release quoted Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division as saying. “Human trafficking is an affront to human rights and to our nation’s core values. The Department of Justice is committed to vindicating the rights of survivors and bringing human traffickers to justice.”
“Human trafficking is a global issue that cannot be tackled alone,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI will remain committed to investigating all forms of human trafficking and work with our law enforcement partners in combatting the problem.”
According to the evidence presented in court, the defendants compelled the victim to serve the family as a domestic servant, using physical and verbal abuse, restricting communication with her family in Pakistan, confiscating her immigration documentation and money and eventually threatening to separate her from her children by deporting her to Pakistan.
According to the evidence, the defendants slapped, kicked and pushed the victim, even beat her with a wooden board, and on one occasion hog-tied her hands and feet and dragged her down the stairs in front of her children. All of these coercive means were employed by the defendants to compel the victim’s labor in their home.
The evidence further showed that the defendants required the victim to work every day, beginning early each morning. They restricted her food, forbade her from learning to drive or speaking to anyone except the defendants’ family members and prohibited her from calling her family in Pakistan.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke, U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Miller, Shea Gibbons and Heather Mansfield for the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Leah Branch of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.