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February 5, 2000
Conspiracy charges slapped on Reddys
R S Shankar
Sitha Vemireddy, the young woman whose accidental death by carbon monoxide leak in November, opened up a sordid drama of alleged visa fraud, sex with minors and modern-day indentured labor, has finally been identified.
The Berkeley police, after weeks of investigation, have found that her real name was Shanthi Jyotsna Devi Prattipati. They also learnt she was brought to America under the false name because the name of the man who posed as her father is Venkateswara Vemireddy. Reddy's sister posed as the girl's mother.
Vemireddy came to America under an H1-B visa and was to work for a $ 43,000 annual salary as a computer programmer. He worked instead for a small fraction of the salary mentioned in his visa documents at Pasand Madras restaurant. When newspapers contacted him following Sitha's death, he maintained his false identity and concocted a story of not getting a job as a computer programmer.
Lakireddy Bali Reddy, 62, the richest landlord in Berkeley, owns the restaurant. Reddy, who is out on a $ 10 million bail, is charged with having sex with a minor.
Vemireddy and his sister are in custody of immigration officials who are continuing their investigation of what they call a prostitution ring set up by Reddy.
Meanwhile, troubles are mounting for Reddy and his younger son, Vijay Kumar Reddy, 30.
On Tuesday federal authorities slapped them with a number of charges, including those of conspiracy and smuggling of aliens into America. If found guilty on the eight counts he is indicted with, Reddy faces 70 years in jail. He also faces a statutory charge filed against him last week; if he is found guilty of that, he could be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
His lawyer Ted Cassman, who had earlier termed the charges as being salacious and false, said on Tuesday there was "nothing new" in the recent charges. He has also said he is looking forward to contesting the charges and defeating them. No date has been set for the trials. Legal experts believe it will not be soon before the father and son will face a judge as the investigators are probing into every aspect of the family business.
He also added that a number of people were coming forward to testify against Reddy because the powerful California senator, Diane Feinstein (Democrat), has urged the Immigration and Naturalization Service to grant immunity to them if they provided evidence against Reddy.
Cassman implied that a number of people whose visas were not in good standing were testifying against his client to get immunity and stay back in America.
He also said his client would plead innocent when he will appear before Magistrate Wayne Brazil's court next week. Reddy and his son have vehemently denied the charges against them.
Under the changes made in immigration laws two years ago, Reddy, who came to America in 1969 and earned a degree in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, could be stripped of his American citizenship after serving part of his jail sentence and deported to India.
"But there are so many charges against him, he could be in the prison for a long, long time if he is found guilty," says Manuella Albuquerque, an attorney for the city of Berkeley. Albuquerque, who is educated in New Delhi, had vigorously opposed letting Reddy out on bail, claiming he was capable of fleeing to India.
But Brazil, who set the $ 10 million bail, has frozen the assets of Reddy and his family (valued at an estimated $ 60 million) and has set strict conditions regarding his movements, night curfew being one of them.
The father and son have also been warned against evidence tempering and contacting potential witnesses against them.
Strict conditions were also attached when Vijaykumar Lakireddy was let out on a $ 500,000 bail. He cannot go near an airport or a long-distance train or bus station and imbibe alcohol.
Vijaykumar Lakireddy was also indicted early this week. The charges against him include conspiracy and illegally importing aliens.
It was through Lakireddy's firm, Active Tech Solutions, that Venkateswara Vemireddy came to America with Jyotsna and her younger sister.
If found guilty of the new charges, Vijaykumar Lakireddy faces 20 years in prison.
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