CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – A servant who worked for a millionaire couple charged with modern-day slavery testified Monday in excruciating detail about the punishment she says she endured for minor transgressions such as sleeping late.
Samirah, an immigrant from Indonesia, said she was forced to walk naked from the servants' room to the kitchen and to eat 100 chili peppers, followed by six spoons of chili powder mixed with salt water. She said she vomited after eating the peppers and was told to eat the vomit.
The testimony came at the trial of Varsha Mahender Sabhnani and her husband, Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani, who run a worldwide perfume business out of their home on the north shore of Long Island.
Prosecutors say the couple severely abused Samirah and another Indonesian woman, Enung, who were brought to the United States to work as housekeepers, then held against their will and repeatedly beaten and starved.
Samirah testifed that the alleged abuse she suffered was for such misdeeds as sleeping late and eating from the trash "because I wasn't given food."
"I said, `Mrs., just send me home to Indonesia,"' Samirah said.
Defense attorneys contend the housekeepers engaged in witchcraft and may have abused themselves as part of an Indonesian self-mutilation ritual — an assertion Samirah denied.
Samirah previously introduced the subject of black magic into the trial when she claimed that Varsha Sabhnani had concocted a spell that led to the death of one of Samirah's sons in Indonesia.
On Monday, Samirah stood up, looking agitated and waving her hands, as she demonstrated how she was stabbed. She also got down on her knees in front of jurors to show how she scrubbed floors three times every day.
In exchange for the work, the prosecution says $100 a month was sent to a relative in Indonesia. Samirah said she never received any money of her own.
The case broke last May when concerned employees at a Dunkin' Donuts called police after Samirah, 51, wandered into their store, muttering and looking injured.
Before the day was over, she was being treated in a hospital and authorities had a warrant to search the Sabhnani home, where they found Enung hiding in a basement closet.
If convicted, the couple could face 40 years in prison.