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|July 27, 2000
I've been framed, says landlord in sex caseAmrapali Singh
"I have been prosecuted for being a member of the minority in this country who was doing well in life," says Kamal Lal, a property-owner in Modesto, California, accused of trading sex with homeless women in return for rental discounts in 1997.
Lal, who agreed to pay a $ 195,000 settlement during the trial in the federal district court in Fresno, California, earlier his year, said his attorneys forced him to accept the settlement even though he was "not guilty of any wrongdoing".
"My guess is they wanted to make a fast buck at my expense," Lal told rediff.com on the phone from his Modesto home.
Lal came to the United States 25 years ago (he is not from Fiji as earlier reports cited, but he refused to say from where in India) and did well in real estate. He said he has been set up and framed by the plaintiffs, Doreen Cordero and Jill Hickey, for "easy money".
The women were living at the Community Housing Shelter Services in Modesto when they met Lal separately in 1997. The lawsuit was filed in 1997 by Project Sentinel, a non-profit California fair housing group that receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with California Rural Legal Assistance, on behalf of the two women.
Lal was officially charged with violation of the Civil Rights Act under the federal Fair Housing Act, which sees sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination since his treatment of the woman was based on gender, according to news reports.
Under the terms of the settlement, Lal is barred from establishing contact with former, current and future tenants. He has further agreed to attend classes on fair housing and hire a property management company to run his 20 rental units in the Modesto area.
The story made big news when it was first reported by The Los Angeles Times in 1997. Lal says he also plans to file action against the Times because "they did not bother to get my side of the story and broke the terms and conditions set up by courts regarding press information".
According to India-West, Lal offered to show Cordero the houses. When she inquired about costs and any pet policy, Lal allegedly offered to reduce the rent and allow her to keep her dog if she would engage in a sex act with him.
Hickey apparently made similar claims against Lal, but chose to settle the case eight months before the trial was to begin, for $ 5,000.
Investigators working on behalf of Project Sentinel said in news reports that they found at least 10 other women who claimed that Lal made sexually explicit comments or requested sexual favours in exchange for a better apartment deal.
But Lal insists all the issues that came up during his trial were never proved. "The women were prostitutes who gave false evidence against me for money. Earlier too, Project Sentinel has used homeless people for its own good, against minorities like Lebanese, Chinese and Indians," he said.
Asked why Project Sentinel chose him as a target and its motive for filing the suit, Lal alleges that the project made money out of him. Of the $ 195,000 settlement amount, money will be distributed among the attorneys, Doreen Cordero, and Project Sentinel.
"I'm a businessman. You think any businessman with so much equity and property would say, 'Date me and I'll lower your rent'? Do you think anyone is that stupid?"
Lal says he plans to get the case reopened and has hired another set of lawyers from New York. "$ 195,000 is not big for me, it's not important. I can afford it. What is big is clearing my name and winning the case," he says.
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