Judge Denies Dismissal, Landlord Trial Continues

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OAKLAND - What seemed to be a small ruling in U.S. Federal Court yesterday was another thorn in the defense of Lakireddy Bali Reddy, owner of two prominent Berkeley businesses, Reddy Realty and Pasand Madras Indian Cuisine.

Judge Saundra Armstrong denied a motion brought by Reddy's lawyers to dismiss two counts of felony charges against him.

Defense attorneys had planned on arguing that the charges of aiding and abetting the importation of Indian girls for "immoral purposes" were too vague. They dropped their initial motion for dismissal, however, in anticipation of the prosecution's next move.

The judge set the date for the next hearing for Oct. 10. The new "superceding indictment," which allows the prosecutor to change the charges against Reddy, is expected to be issued by a federal grand jury on Oct. 5.

"I intend to add additional defendants (to the case)," U.S. Assistant Attorney Matthew Jacobs said. "A primary change is anticipated if the court can bear with me until Oct.5."

Reddy's attorneys asked that their client be excused from his next court date. In response, the judge strongly reiterated to Reddy the importance of his court appearance.

"You do have the right to be here and sometimes it's critical in setting motions," Armstrong said.

Reddy's next court date will be the last chance for his defense team to dismiss some of his charges before the trial. With the addition of new defendants, however, the motion of dismissal will become more complex.

After the court appearance, Reddy's lead attorney declined to answer questions.

Although the courtroom was calm, a group of young activists, called the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, eagerly approached passersby outside and gave out informational flyers.

The group came to show their support for a conviction against Reddy. The group held a vigil for the victims of Reddy's alleged conduct in January when the charges came out, and this event spawned the formal alliance.

"Our group serves to educate and organize the South Asian community about the issues of sexual and labor exploitation," said Shaily Matani, the group's spokesperson.

The group also condemned news stories previously written about the case.

"I'm disturbed by the media coverage - they are ignoring the larger issue of labor exploitation and focusing on the issue as a sex scandal," Matani said.

The group also wants to discourage the myth that sexual exploitation occurs mostly within Southeast Asian cultures.

The case has been high-profile ever since last November when Seetha Vemireddy died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Vemireddy had previously come to this country illegally with fake visas and worked for Reddy at his restaurant while living in one of his apartment complexes, said Berkeley Police Capt. Bobby Miller in a January interview.

The death was ruled an accident caused by a blocked heater vent, but it prompted an investigation of Reddy and eventually his arrest on nine charges, including illegally importing Indian girls into the U.S. for sex. Reddy posted bail at $10 million.

Some community members responded with outrage and angry protests outside his restaurant on Shattuck Avenue.

The Reddy family has filed a lawsuit against one protestor, Donna Mills, a professor of sociology at Mills College.


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