Landlord Reddy Pleads Guilty to Felony Charges In Federal Court





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OAKLAND-Lakireddy Bali Reddy, on the brink of tears, pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally importing young Indian girls for sex in federal court.

Putting an end to a two-year federal investigation, the wealthiest landlord in Berkeley confessed to four felony charges, including conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, transporting a minor for sex and tax evasion.

In a deal struck with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kennedy, 63-year-old Reddy admitted his involvement in the crimes, which spanned a 14-year period. Reddy gives up his right to have a trial or to appeal his conviction and now faces up to six and a half years in prison.

Barely able to speak, Reddy told Judge Saundra Armstrong he wanted to apologize to his family and the court.

"I want to say I'm very, very sorry for these actions," he said.

Sitting in front of the courtroom, his son Vijay Kumar Lakireddy, who is also charged in the conspiracy along with his brother Prasad Lakireddy, burst into tears as his father was taken into custody. Armstrong denied a request to allow Reddy to remain free until his April 10 sentencing date.

Prasad Lakireddy and Vijay Kumar Lakireddy still face charges of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and will likely go to trial at a later date.

Kennedy said Reddy's request to be released until sentencing was reasonable, since it provided Reddy time to liquify his assets and pay the $2 million in restitution fees to the victims by the sentencing date.

Armstrong, however, said she was unable to grant that request because of the violent nature of his crime and because Reddy did not have any "unusual circumstances" that would require he remain free.

In yesterday's agreement, Reddy admitted to importing at least 25 Indians on fraudulent visas and passports.

Reddy's brother, Jayaprakash Lakireddy, and his brother's wife, Annapurna Lakireddy, also

admitted on Monday to conspiring to commit immigration fraud. The young girls were put to work in the family's businesses, which total over $70 million worth in real estate throughout Berkeley. Reddy and his family also own Reddy Realty and Pasand Madras Cuisine on Shattuck Avenue.

Reddy engaged in sex with several of the girls, some who were minors, prosecutors said. Documents filed by federal prosecutors Oct. 25, 2000 also alleged that workers at the businesses were, at times, not paid minimum wage or overtime, as mandated by law.

The documents also detailed the case of two girls whom Reddy arranged to have "transported" for sex, personally picked up at the airport, driven to Berkeley and employed at Pasand.

"Defendant Lakireddy Bali Reddy played a leadership role in this offense because he was the primary organizer, leader and decision-maker in the conspiracy to bring these aliens into the United States," said Department of Justice attorney Bharathi Venkatraman, reading a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office.

Venkatraman said Reddy was able to exploit the girls because they depended on him for survival.

"He determined where the aliens would work, when they arrived in the United States, where they would live and how much, if any, they would be paid for their work," Venkatraman said.

Despite the serious nature of Reddy's crimes, under the plea agreement he will face a lighter prison sentence of six-and-a-half years in comparison to the previous agreement of a maximum 38-year sentence.

Furthermore, the agreement stated that the District Attorney of Alameda County would not bring any additional charges against Reddy.

In response to the agreement, Michael Rubin, an attorney for the victims and their families, said that although more criminal charges would not be pursued, the victims could gain further vindication through civil litigation.

Rubin said the civil suits, one of which is a wrongful death case, will be looking at Reddy's offshore activities and assets in seeking compensation for the victims and their families.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jayashri Srikantiah, who is working with the victims on behalf of the Immigrants' Rights Project, said she felt justice had been served.

"Today a serious criminal has been unmasked," Srikantiah said.

She added that the restitution was a sufficient amount for the victims.

Others, however, were not as satisfied with the ruling. Shaily Matani, spokesperson for the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, said she was disappointed with the results of the plea bargain.

"We would have liked to see more emphasis on labor violations and sexual assault rather than just illegal trafficking," she said.

Matani said additional sexual assault charges could have been brought against Reddy by Alameda County.

Reddy's case came to light nearly two years ago, when one of the girls he imported into the country, 17-year-old Chanti Prantipatti, died in one of his housing units Nov. 24, 1999.

The case has gained national attention, illuminating the business of global sex trafficking. Several months ago, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein also proposed legislation that aimed to protect Reddy's victims from deportation if they spoke out.

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