In an unexpected development in a criminal investigation that began last fall with the death of an Indian immigrant, prosecutors say Berkeley’s wealthiest landlord and four family members will plead guilty next week to federal charges arising from their alleged importation of teenage girls from India for sex and cheap labor.
The move comes as the result of an apparent plea agreement with the government discussed in court documents filed Thursday.
Lakireddy Bali Reddy, 63, an Indian immigrant who is Berkeley’s largest residential landlord, will enter a guilty plea Oct. 30, as will his younger son, Vijay Lakireddy, 31, according to documents filed by the United States Attorney’s office.
Three new defendants are also expected to enter guilty pleas to at least some of nine federal criminal counts handed down to Reddy earlier this year: Reddy’s wife, Annapurna Reddy, his 47-year-old brother, Jayprakash Lakireddy and Reddy’s older son, 42-year-old son Prasad Lakireddy.
It was not known Tuesday what specific charges Reddy or the other defendants would plead guilty to, or what sentence they might receive.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment Tuesday. None of the five defense lawyers involved in the case returned calls yesterday seeking comment.
In a typical plea bargain, government and defense lawyers will agree on reduced charges and jointly recommend a sentence. Under federal rules, however, federal district court judge Saundra Brown Armstrong is not obligated to accept the joint recommendation and may impose a harsher sentence if she chooses.
Reddy and Lakireddy Bali Reddy have been charged, with importing aliens for immoral purposes and other immigration offenses. The father-son pair was arrested in January for allegedly bringing two teenage girls into the United States from their village in Southern India so the girls could engage in sexual relations with Reddy and perform manual labor on his rental properties and in his downtown Berkeley restaurant.
Reddy faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in jail and $2 million in fines if found guilty on all nine counts.
Vijay Lakireddy faces charges on three of the nine counts and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison plus $750,000 in fines.
But with a plea agreement apparently having been reached, prosecutors will likely ask the judge to impose far lighter sentences in exchange for guilty pleas from the father-son pair.
The minor girls, one of whom died accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Reddy-owned apartment on Bancroft Way in November 1999, were allegedly admitted to the country on fraudulent visa applications stating they were children of a man employed by Reddy.
Several hearings in the case were put off in recent months after prosecutors asked the judge for more time to investigate and name additional defendants. It may be that government and defense lawyers were negotiating a plea deal during this time to avoid a trial.
One of the defendants named Thursday, Jayprakash Lakireddy, owns an East Bay construction company, Jay Construction. The company was fined $6,000 last year by Cal OSHA, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency last year for safety violations related to unsafe scaffolding during a painting job at Reddy’s Pasand Restaurant on Shattuck Avenue. The scaffolding lacked railings, was too narrow and did not have proper fall protection, according to OSHA spokesperson Dean Fryer.
Reddy’s wife, Annapurna Lakireddy, is the only defendant who will need a language interpreter at the hearing on Oct. 30, according to court documents.