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|March 18, 2000|
Lakireddy tried to hide evidence: prosecutors
R S Shankar
The lawyer for the biggest landlord in Berkeley, who also has extensive businesses in Silicon Valley, asked the court to dismiss the case against his client. But the prosecutors insisted that 62-year-old Lakireddy Bali Reddy had spent eight weeks before his arrest in January covering up the identities of two girls he had smuggled into the country.
Reddy, who also owns two Indian restaurants, is accused, among many things, of smuggling girls to have sex with and to do menial work.
Prosecutors say he tried to put two sisters, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes on November 24, and their distraught roommate into a van before the police arrived. One of the girls, 17, died; her sister, 15, survived and is now in protective custody. The authorities are also protecting the third woman, who is in her twenties.
Assistant US Attorney John Kennedy said Reddy continued lying to officials about the two girls who had come to America posing as the daughters of a high-tech worker. The man, it transpired, was not anything of the kind and had begun working for Reddy's restaurant soon after his arrival.
Kennedy asserted that he would prove that Reddy and his family "actively concealed the true identities of the deceased girl and her sister, lied to the Berkeley police and instructed witnesses to lie to the police about the girls." The 17 year old is Shanti Pratipatti, officials say. Her passport identified her as Seetha Vemmireddy.
Reddy and his son, Vijay Lakireddy, 30, who ran a firm to hire high-tech workers, also face charges of submitting false visa applications. Both have pleaded not guilty and are free on bail -- the father on a $ 10 million bail and the son on a $ 500,000 bail.
Vijay Lakireddy's attorney George Cotsirilos said, "The government is absolutely wrong, and the truth will come out at the hearing." Ted Cassman, who represents the father, made no comment. The hearing is expected to start in April; the chances of the judge dismissing the cases are very slim, legal authorities say.
Kennedy said a man matching Reddy's description was among several men who were seen carrying the unconscious body of a 17 year old girl into a Reddy Realty van.
Autopsy reports say the girl was about 10 days pregnant. Cassman has asked for DNA testing, adding that the tests would show that neither his client nor son Lakireddy had anything to do with her condition. Cassman also said, without elaboration, the evidence from the autopsy will show that the girl had sex with someone other than his client.
The sisters were discovered by their roommate, who was seen "crying and resisting", as several men forced her into the van, Kennedy said. The men apparently worked for Reddy and his son.
A woman who intervened when she saw the roommate struggling and was told by a man fitting Reddy's description that it was none of her business, the documents filed in the court said.
Defense attorneys have accused Berkeley City's lawyer, Manuela Albuquerque, of misleading the court -- during the bail hearing -- by asserting that Reddy had not called for help.
However, the police later revealed that an unidentified man had called 911 from the girls' apartment. But prosecutors argued her comments were "made in good faith and based on the information known to counsel at the time."
Since bail hearings are held early in the case, it is not unusual for attorneys to rely on information before the details are fleshed out, officials told the court. Reddy was initially being released on a much smaller bail but when Albuquerque and her colleagues argued he would be a flight risk and tamper with the witnesses, the judge hiked the bail to $ 10 million and put severe restrictions on his movements.
Kennedy said this week that though Reddy and his associates may have called 911, his actions show that he was trying to "spirit" the girls out of the apartment.
Reddy and his son have agreed to provide voice samples to help identify the man who called 911 from the girls's apartment. The caller initially said people had fainted at the Berkeley BART station, according to Kennedy. But the dispatcher traced the call to the apartment owned by Reddy where the three girls had lived -- and which, the authorities say, Reddy frequently visited.
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