Realty Owner Charged With Felony

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The owner of Berkeley's largest realty company - who owns many apartments rented by UC Berkeley students - has been charged with illegally importing immigrants into the United States, law enforcement officials announced yesterday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California charged Reddy Bali Lakireddy, the owner of Reddy Realty, with one felony count of aiding and abetting the importation of aliens for immoral purposes, and one felony count of encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States illegally. He has not, however, been charged with prostitution.

After an investigation conducted in cooperation with the Berkeley Police Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has filed an affidavit alleging that Lakireddy arranged to bring young women, ranging in age from 15 to 20, from India to the United States so he could have illegal sexual relations with them.

Berkeley police said in a statement that Lakireddy sexually molested several women whom he helped gain entry into the United States, and that he helped them use false identities and family relationships to expedite the immigration process.

At a press conference, Berkeley police Capt. Bobby Miller said police believe Lakireddy has molested numerous women, many of whom worked long hours for little more than room and board.

Miller said the investigation began after one of Lakireddy's tenants, Seetha Vemireddy, 17, was found dead in her apartment from carbon monoxide poisoning in November. Her 16-year-old sister was found unconscious but was taken to the hospital and survived. Vemireddy's death was ruled an accident caused by a blocked heater vent.

Both sisters worked at Lakireddy's Berkeley restaurant, Pasand. The younger sister is being held in protective custody.

In addition to the charges filed against Lakireddy, Miller said the investigation revealed Seetha Vemireddy entered the United States using a false name and a false passport.

"The name she gave is not her real name," Miller said. "They were reportedly brought over as family members of a worker with an H-1 visa."

The publicity over Vemireddy's death inspired several of Lakireddy's other tenants to write anonymous letters to the Berkeley Police Department claiming Lakireddy molested them, Miller said.

While Berkeley police began the investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service made the arrest.

Because the investigation is ongoing, neither Miller nor city attorney Manuela Albuquerque would comment on whether Lakireddy might face additional charges.

The press conference was called to encourage other women who have been victims of Lakireddy to inform police and aid the investigation, Miller said.

"We believe that he has victimized many other women," he said. "I would like to encourage those people who sent the letters to take the next step and come forward and stop this."

He added that there may have been other men involved in the case.

"There are victims of this one individual and also victims of other people we don't know about who could be connected with him," Miller said.

In an attempt to alleviate the fears of illegal immigrants who might be afraid of deportation should they contact police about Lakireddy's actions, police said the INS assures it is not interested in prosecuting anyone unless that person has exploited laborers and women.

The carbon monoxide death occurred in the district of Councilmember Dona Spring. After the meeting, Spring said she was glad Lakireddy had been charged.

"I'm actually relieved that the thing's come to light," Spring said. "I've been hearing various rumors for a while."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose Southside district contains many of Lakireddy's apartments, said he has heard many complaints about maintenance issues in Lakireddy's buildings.

"There's a pattern of complaints about this particular landlord," he said. "Those complaints could be a sign that this is one more example of negligence."

Mayor Shirley Dean expressed surprise at the charges against Lakireddy.

"I'm absolutely shocked," she said.

Lakireddy will appear in an Oakland federal court on Friday. If convicted, he could spend up to 18 years in prison and pay a maximum $500,000 fine.


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