CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – A millionaire couple accused of keeping two Indonesian women as slaves will be permitted to post $3.5 million bail under strict conditions that include home detention, telephone wiretaps and 24-hour surveillance, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Platt told attorneys to negotiate details of a bail agreement, including exactly how the security restrictions will work, by Friday.
The Sabhnanis, who operate a worldwide perfume business out of their mansion in Muttontown on Long Island, were arrested May 13 after one of the Indonesian women was found wandering outside a nearby doughnut shop. She apparently had escaped the night before when she was putting out the trash, prosecutors said.
Unable to speak English fluently, she showed her wounds and Indonesian passport to a manager at the shop and said, "Mister, mister, I want to go home, Indonesia," said Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo.
The second victim was found when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement searched the house later that day.
The Sabhnanis were charged with two counts of forced labor and added two counts of harboring illegal residents. Defense lawyers deny the workers were abused or held against their will.
Platt agreed to allow bail for the couple Wednesday after a hearing in which prosecutors claimed relatives of the Sabhnanis had attempted to bribe one of the victims and that one of the victims was threatened with death after complaining she was abused.
Leo Dwinanto, the son of one of the two women, told federal officials a brother of Varsha Sabhnani offered to pay Dwinanto's family $28,000 if his mother would agree not to cooperate with the court case, according to documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
Dwinanto also told authorities that his mother told him in a letter that she was being abused. She wrote that "she was being beaten by her employer for making mistakes and forced to take repeated showers and eat hot chili peppers," according to a sworn statement from Dwinanto filed in court.
He said he was told by Varsha Sabhnani's mother that if she left it would be a "breach of contract," and that the woman also told him, "Don't ask too much. I can kill your mother," according to the statement.
Jonathan Marks, a lawyer representing Varsha Sabhnani's mother and brother, said Dwinanto's claims were "totally untrue." Varsha Sabhnani's lawyer, Charles Ross, said the claims "would not be substantiated."