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In many of the newspaper photos of Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani, the Long Island couple convicted last year of enslaving and brutalizing two domestic workers from Indonesia, the Sabhnanis can be seen outside their $2 million, 5,900-square-foot Muttontown home. That house now will become government property, according to a decision by Eastern District of N.Y. Judge Arthur D. Spatt granting the federal government’s motion for forfeiture. Spatt last week found a “sufficient nexus” between the couple’s crimes and their home in the Muttontown Knowls subdivision to merit forfeiture under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “In this case, the essence of the Defendants’ crimes involve harboring illegal aliens and forcing them to perform domestic labor. In addition, the jury determined that Varsha actually caused serious bodily injury to the victims,” Spatt held in United States v. Sabhnani, 07-cr-429. “As such, the Court finds that the Defendants fit into the class of persons for whom the statutes were designed.” Click here for the decision The Sabhnanis entered the international spotlight in May 2007, when their housekeeper Samirah showed up at a Syosset, N.Y., Dunkin’ Donuts with a bruised face and wearing only pants and a towel. After Samirah, who uses only one name according to Indonesian custom, told her story to the police, federal officials searched the Sabhnanis’ house and found a second housekeeper, Enung, hiding in a closet. The two women told stories of starvation, abuse and torture. In their five years with the Sabhnanis, Samirah and Enung worked as much as 21 hours a day, seven days a week for $100 per month, they testified. They told of being beaten by brooms and rolling pins. As punishment, Samirah was once stripped naked and covered head to toe in tape. Another time, after being caught eating two chocolates, she was forced to stand in one spot for an entire day. The two were given so little food that they took to scavenging the family’s garbage. On Dec. 17, 2007, both defendants were convicted by a jury on 12 separate counts, including forced labor and harboring aliens. The court also presented the issue of forfeiture to the jurors for a supplemental verdict. The jury determined that the government established the house at 205 Coachman Place East should be forfeited. At a subsequent forfeiture hearing, the Sabhnanis argued that a forfeiture would violate the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment and that the house should not be forfeited in its entirety as it also includes Mr. Sabhnani’s home office. Spatt found that forfeiture would not be constitutionally excessive and that the home office also had a legally meaningful link to the crimes. “Throughout the trial, the testimony revealed the horrors encountered by the victims during the years they spent with the Defendants,” the judge wrote. “The victims were starved, tortured, cut and beaten over the course of years. The harm to the victims in this case is truly grave.” He added, “[T]he office is part of the Defendants’ home and that indisputable fact alone makes it subject to forfeiture. [In addition,] a review of the trial testimony reveals that Mahender’s office … was involved in the offenses and used to facilitate the commission of the crimes.” In a separate decision, Spatt also ordered the Sabhnanis to pay their former housekeepers a total of $935,000 in restitution under 18 U.S.C. 1593. Samirah and Enung may also pursue civil suits. Varsha Sabhnani was sentenced to 11 years in prison last month and was fined $25,000. Her husband was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. Jeffrey C. Hoffman, Susan C. Wolfe and Joanna Eftychiou-Evans of Hoffman & Pollok and Stephen P. Scaring and Matthew W. Brissenden of Scaring & Brissenden represented the defendants. Ms. Wolfe said the Sabhnanis have already filed a notice of appeal. Mark Joseph Lesko, Demetri M. Jones and Vincent Lipari represented the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District.

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