Sabhnanis Still in Jail

19 Jun

GothamistVarsha and Murlidhar Sabhnani (read details here) are still in jail.

A Long Island Indian-Indonesian millionaire immigrant couple, the Sabhnanis were arrested in May for enslaving and torturing their Indonesian maids. Seen as a flight risk because of their wealth and international connections (from New York to India to Indonesia), bail was set for $3.5 million on the condition that the couple be confined to house arrest. All expenses incurred, including monitoring systems and guards, estimated to amount to some $15,000 a day, were to be borne by them.

However, one month later, the couple’s lawyers are yet to come to an understanding with the prosecuting attorney, leaving them in jail. Presiding federal judge Thomas Platt, who’d earlier said that he would work out a plan for home detention if the two parties were unable to reach a compromise, sided with the prosecution:

The judge held several hearings but ultimately found on Monday that because the Sabhnanis present a “risk of flight, no such conditions or combination of conditions would adequately assure the presence of the defendants” at future court dates.

Platt also said that

he was denying the couple bail because he believed that they had not been forthcoming in disclosing their finances and that they might be capable of deceit.

The Sabhnanis, who’ve moved stonily through the entire process even though their daughter has broken down at least once, showed no visible reaction to his ruling in court, promptly fired their team of lawyers and hired a new set who asked that Judge Platt be removed because he

has been found, as a previous appellate court ruling has said, to have “a willingness to rubber stamp any suggestion made by the United States Attorney.”

The case, due to begin September 10, 2007, is only one of the Sabhnanis’ problems albeit the most serious one. One May 18, five days after their arrest in the slavery case, the Sabhnanis filed a lawsuit against Girogio Armani Perfumes and L’Oreal for trademark infringement.

The Sabhnanis, who own an international perfume empire, had trademarked “Attitude” in 1995 but neglected to file some necessary paperwork/renew the license. Now, L’Oreal and Armani are marketing a perfume by the same name.

Since I first wrote about this story, at least one reader has come forward with the conspiracy theory that the two cases might be related – that the slavery case might be one of corporate skullduggery, engineered to weaken their ability to fight a civil suit. Others are baffled by the long term nature of the alleged abuse and wonder why the two women didn’t make a bid for freedom earlier. The Sabhnanis’ lawyers on the other hand have another conspiracy angle involving the Indonesian maids whose testimonies lie at the heart of the case:

“The time-honored truth-telling test of cross-examination will reveal whether their allegations are an attempt to further improve their lots [they have overstayed their visas] by aligning themselves with the United States Government against employers they may well have perceived as unduly privileged.”


Given that I have absolutely no say in the proceedings and that I have not seen all the evidence, in my opinion the above theories are bunkum.

The idea of L’Oreal and Armani banding together to cook up a conspiracy involving slavery, Indonesian maids and federal prosecutors is ludicrous, however one looks at it. Trademark infringement cases are fought all the time and anyway, the Sabhnanis are the ones who messed up in the first place by neglecting their paperwork – it hardly warrants an all out corporate war that involves the federal court.

And as to why the women didn’t walk out on their own – it’s for the same reason that other victims of abuse, whether domestic violence or modern slavery, don’t just walk out on their abusers. The psychological impact of torture carried out by those in positions of power in an unfamiliar land can only be imagined by most of us. For a basic introduction to modern day slavery in the United States, read this.

As for the lawyers’ contention that the two women are working with the government to victimize their clients – that whole scenario depends on one assumption: that the U.S. government wishes to punish the Sabhnanis. And why would that be?

Going by the defense, can one presume that some interesting skeletons are waiting to come out of the Sabhnani closet?


Posted by on June 19, 2007 in Life, News


21 responses to “Sabhnanis Still in Jail

  1. DG

    June 20, 2007 at 4:10 am

    One hopes and prays they get their comeuppance soon.

  2. Terri

    June 20, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Boy, that’s one ugly looking woman (even though my nose is shaped like hers)! Based on that one and only photo of hers circulating in the media, it’s difficult to think of her as innocent.

  3. Amrita

    June 20, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    DG – Amen.

    Terri – it IS an unfortunate photo isn’t it? 😀 But there’s more to it than the nose so don’t worry!

  4. DG

    June 20, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Ooh can I add, calling her Cruella – inspired! 😉
    BTW, my ‘vote for taj’ is up! take up the non-tag pls –

  5. Amrita

    June 21, 2007 at 1:48 am

    thanks DG – will check it out 🙂

  6. Amrita - not the author of this article though!

    June 25, 2007 at 10:10 am

    To those of you who have commented on the looks of Mrs Sabhnani – –

    Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.
    Comments of this nature portray immaturity and a shallow thought process….

  7. Amrita - not the author of this article though!

    June 25, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Guilty until proven innocent???
    That’s what happens when your genotype corresponds this equation:
    Indian origin + rich & successful + US citizen = The American ego’s latest adversary
    Controversial as it may seem, that equation seems to illustrate the underlying rationale of the American judicial system of today. The recent allegations against Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani, the multimillionaires of long island New York have defied the very fundamentals on which the American law is supposedly based, ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The fact that the allegations have been made on the basis of claims by the maid Samirah from Indonesia, who had a lot to gain out of such a prosecution, with no factual evidence does not exactly epitomize the concept of justice. Monetary gain was motive enough for a 50 year old woman from a poverty stricken background to claim charges against her rich and influential employers.

  8. Amrita - not the author of this article though!

    June 25, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Delving deeper into the details of this case, one does wonder….
    If she was so unhappy and ill treated why did she wait for 5 years to make an issue about it? The family travels often, which gave her enough opportunities to use it to her advantage; how do you explain that? Perhaps a recent brainwash by a new acquaintance with an aptitude for conspiracy? The case seems to have no dearth of loopholes. Logically speaking, the fact that she had the time to think of grabbing her passport suggests that a well constructed plot was a precedent to the towel clad escape. Why would she run out in a towel if not to seek attention and sympathy; there had to have been a story to publicize and why a doughnut shop and not a police station? Logical reasoning suggests that an accomplice would be a probable motive. As far as being physically assaulted by the Sabhnani’s is concerned, where is the proof that it wasn’t a case of self mutilation? The fact that feigning physical abuse would only strengthen the case further against Mr and Mrs Sabhnani and add to the already long list of assumption based accusations, exemplifies its purpose. Where is the proof that the maid was asked to eat chillies? Where is the proof that she was asked to bathe 30 times in 3 hours? Where is the proof that salaries were not being paid? These are assumptions based on claims from someone with nothing to lose but a lot to gain. Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani have been denied bail on the grounds of something as preposterous as a probable ‘flight risk’. That doesn’t say much about the border security of the USA.

  9. Amrita

    June 25, 2007 at 10:29 am

    To the poster above: if you have so much to say, may I suggest a blog? You’re being identified as spam by Akismet. As for every one of your points, they’ve been adequately explained by the various links in this and the former post. Please read carefully.

  10. ray nwamb

    December 16, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    This is a fantastic website you have here. The online community will greatly benefit from your efforts. Please when you have time do check out my blog for insights on Fragrance Perfumes and how to get discount perfume gifts sets for less

  11. jagae

    December 17, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    To the comment “Indian origin + rich & successful + US citizen = The American ego’s latest adversary” …. These people are now naturalize American’s …. does this have to do with their ego?????

    I hope aftter reading transcripts from the trial … in which the couple was found GUILTY!!!! …. Amrita (not the author) rethinks the tirade on the US Justice system.

  12. Rkrishnan

    December 24, 2007 at 9:25 am

    I have to agree with Amrita.. I think, the maids have conconcted a bizzarre story and the whole media blitz have led to the prosecution of the shabnanis. I really hope they file an Appeal and win the case back.

  13. Sri

    June 23, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I would be the first to pronounce guilt on the Sabhnanis if they are guilty, but bear with me:
    Why would rich millionaires for whom the maid-salaries were akin to lesser than pocket change stoop so low as to deny them those basic wages? People who reportedly manufacture their perfumes in the US cutting their ROI margins in the process do not give the appearance of guilt to me.

    This appears to be a well planned scheme by some remarkably shrewd person/s (not the Armanis or corporates) but accomplices of those Indonesian maids – to systematically use the US jury system – Pit any ultra-rich non-indigenous person against poor people and the result is seldom in doubt.

    The dramatization of all this to a believing jury further lends credence to the above theory. It is difficult to believe that the Sabnanis were so stupid that they would do all this in a country where getting caught makes them lose all of what they have built over 25 years.

  14. Amrita

    June 24, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Sri – the primary flaw in that line of reasoning is that a lot of people are precisely that stupid. People dont commit crimes thinking they’ll be caught, usually they think themselves to be much smarter than that.

    And there really is no clear reason why people are horrible, especially in their own home. Otherwise nobody would ever hurt children.

    As for them cutting into their ROI by producing in the US, as per the NYT, their supplier thinks that they did it coz they thought that meant better quality. Which is something I can imagine. But in any case I dont see what that has to do with anything – there are plenty of people in India who pay their employees a fair wage but treat their domestic help like crap.

  15. Kathe K.

    June 26, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    The reason this man and this woman tortured these maids for years is: they are arrogant psychopaths. If you google psychopaths, you’ll read that psychopaths have no conscience. They pick a victim, inflict pain, and they just don’t care.

    Also as abhorrent and evil-looking as the female torturer is, I don’t blame only her. Present in that evil house was also the husband, and the 4 children, all of whom were well aware of the situation. People who observe a crime and do nothing, don’t report it, etc., are complicit.

    What really infuriates me is that these people defended themselves by blaming the victims. They have no defense. They’re the scum on the bottom of our shoes.

    And where are the receipts for the money these people had allegedly paid these maids? Nowhere, I’m sure, because these people are trash.

    All I have to say is that in prison they will encounter people who will make THEM the victims, and then they might finally understand what evil things they did to two uneducated, helpless women.

  16. Arthur

    June 27, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Funny how the only people sticking up for this horriable woman happen to be Indians! Overwhelming evidence points to what the maids were saying was the TRUTH – this woman has been convicted and will now spend 15 to 17 years in prison. There will be no early release or parole for her as she is going to Federal Prison and they don’t have parole – get a 17 year sentence and you serve a full 17 years.

    Many immigrants, Muslims mostly, try to take advantage of the American System and commit fraud from the moment they arrive here. Many own convience stores because it’s so easy to cheat the US Government on things such as food stamps. I only wish this woman would be sent back to the 3rd World crappy country she came from to serve her time; an American Federal Prison is too good for her!

  17. Rachel

    June 27, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Justice has been served. Unless you have been a victim of incredible abuse you’ll never understand what makes a person stay in a horrendous situation. These women were poor, uneducated, and barely spoke the language. They were up in age, not spring chickens and had to endure a wicked situation.

    I trust the U.S. justice system, it may not be perfect but what system is? The prosecuting attorneys, the defense attorneys and finally the jury have made their verdict. They have been found guilty and so now they must pay the price. 11 yrs for her and 3 yrs for him is not an eternity. They didn’t get life in prison!

    Never forget where you came from, your never too big or too rich that you can’t fall. Treat everyone with love and respect and things like this would’ve never happened. Just because you can afford hired help, does not give anyone the right to abuse or dehumanize those people. Justice has indeed been served.

  18. Loves Carb

    June 28, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    I guess we (the public) are expected to believe that these two women, who came here FIVE YEARS AGO, for the princely sum of $100 per month, are smart enough to fabricate lies, alleged beatings, and other abuses for the sole purpose of being granted asylum to stay in this country.


    They were both in their 40’s when they came here. They worked as housekeepers for five years. But somehow, they both have the ability and knowledge to beat the system.


    But of course, none of what they are alleging is true, because some contractor, who was in the house for 3 months, didn’t see anything amiss. Nor did some freelancer who came to the house less than every week. This is why I could never be a defense attorney. I just could not ‘ say anything for the sake of money.

    I agree that the jail term is appropriate. I do think the husband should have gotten moe than 3 yrs.\

    It seems only Indians bleieve that the women CONCOTED this story. Believe it or not most innercity Americans believe that Indians are money-hungry goverment-cheatin’ indivduals who have such contempt for American citizens yet they are here trying to get rich off of the pooorest of society.

    sigh….never forget where you came from as one poster aptly put it

  19. Alex

    June 30, 2008 at 5:08 am

    She will suffer real hell in jail, because she deserves it. I hope and pray that she will rotten and die in hell. I hope the stupid husband gets a nice sentence too. They should jail the kids too, for bearing the genes and allowing what happened to happen. For Christ’s sake, once they are done, kick them all out of this country. And to all the stupid people in this blog trying to even insinuate that the maids made it up, wake up you morons! This happens all over SE Asia. It is time it gets really punished. Other countries, notably the dictatorship of Singapore hands out slaps on the wrists to employers (mostly Chinese, no wonder) who abuse their maids, while handing out multi-year sentences to cigarrette smugglers (corrupt Singaporeans know where the money is). This is a leason for the Singapore Brothel-State to learn a lesson. How sad that some people are so pathetically disgusting to even think of doing something like this. I hope this family gets beaten up whereever they go. I hope people stop buying any of their perfumes.

  20. Alex

    June 30, 2008 at 5:13 am

    And Amrita and Sri, you are two fucking lousy idiots, and if I ever got to see you in person I would drag your damn sick faces all over the mud until you fucking wake up. It is because of stupid people like you that things like this happens. Yes, unfortunately it is true, there are certain nationalities like Indians, who still believe in the caste system, or Chinese, who have no respect for anything other than money, who treat other people as animals. To all of you, get the fuck back to your nasty countries, you bastards!

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