Federal prosecutors honed in Tuesday on the two remaining defendants in the criminal case filed last year against Berkeley landlord Lakireddy Bali Reddy and four family members, alleging for the first time that Reddy’s two adult sons raped seven teenage girls from India between 1992 and 1999, and that Reddy’s older son later tried to dissuade one of the alleged victims from communicating with police.
Reddy, a 63-year-old multimillionaire Berkeley property owner pleaded guilty on March 7 to tax evasion, immigration fraud and importation of minors for illegal sexual activity, but was never charged with rape or statutory rape, although victims included alleged minors.
Judge Sandra Brown Armstrong was to have ruled on the plea bargain and sentenced the elder Reddy Tuesday, but because a probation department report was not ready, the ruling was delayed until June 19.
According to a superseding indictment filed Monday afternoon by U.S. Attorney John W. Kennedy, Vijay Kumar Lakireddy, 31, and Prasad Lakireddy, 42, conspired with their father since 1986 to “recruit, hire, and smuggle into the United States a number of Indian women and girls for the purpose of entering into sexual relations with them,” and also allegedly committed nine separate rapes over a span of eight years.
The brothers were arraigned on the new charges Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Oakland.
The government’s new indictment provides a broad context for the brothers’ alleged crimes. Prosecutors claim Reddy family employees “would procure poor and destitute young Indian girls and put them to work in menial jobs such as cleaning and gardening at the Reddy estate in Velvadam, India.” The indictment says the defendants “forced these girls to engage in sexual intercourse with them when they were visiting the estate.” Once the girls arrived in the United States, the indictment claims, Reddy and his sons “would force the girls to submit to sexual relations,” by “scolding, belittling, threatening, beating and raping the victims.”
In one typical charging paragraph, the indictment alleges that on August 19, 1999, “Reddy and others drove Victim No. 2 and Victim No. 3 from the San Francisco Airport to an apartment in Berkeley, California, where he had sexual intercourse with each of the girls against her will.”
The girls allegedly ranged in age from 11 to 18 years old upon their arrival in the United States. The indictment also charges Prasad Lakireddy with witness tampering for allegedly intimidating one of the victims.
Of the five defendants in the case, Vijay Kumar Lakireddy and Prasad Lakireddy are the only two who refused to enter guilty pleas last year in exchange for a plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Reddy, one of his brothers and a sister-in-law pleaded guilty in March and are awaiting sentencing.
On Monday, federal prosecutors added numerous charges to their prior indictment against the sons, who together are now charged with 21 separate criminal counts.
Paul Wolf, the attorney for Prasad Lakireddy, said Tuesday he was surprised by the number of new charges. “I think there’s some evidence of overcharging,” he said. “I’m surprised by the breadth and the strength of the charges and the amount of them,” he said. Wolf said he was concerned that U.S. Attorney John W. Kennedy had been influenced by public outcry over the case, which has attracted widespread media attention.
“I’m just concerned that he’s been persuaded by witnesses and agents who believe these witnesses,” Wolf said, while praising Kennedy for his fairness. “I have some real suspicion about these witnesses,” he said, referring to the individuals identified in court documents as Victims No. 2 and 3, because, Wolf said, they have made contradictory statements.
U.S. Attorney Kennedy declined to comment after the morning hearing. He handed out copies of the superseding indictment to several reporters.
The government’s superseding indictment, which is based on evidence presented in secret to a federal grand jury, alleges for the first time in the 16-month investigation that Reddy or his sons knowingly conspired to import aliens for rape.
But Wolf says the facts of the case have been grossly overplayed. The case first came to light in November 1999 when Reddy employees were seen removing the body of a girl who had died accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Bancroft Way apartment, belonging to Reddy. Wolf says the employees were not trying to spirit a body away in the dead of night, but were taking the girl to the hospital.
“The way the press reports it you would think they were trying to hide the body and that there was a murder that had gone on,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. They had already called 911. They were trying to get police assistance.”
Dressed in a cream colored wool vest, Prasad Lakireddy stood next to Wolf as Wolf spoke briefly with a reporter after the arraignment, amiably concurring in his attorney’s comments. His younger brother, Vijay, emerged presently on the first floor of the federal courthouse clad in a sportcoat with a bright orange tie. He announced he would be riding his motorcycle home.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Reddy will likely receive a sentence of five to six and one-half years in prison, plus pay a $2 million fine. Vijay Kumar Lakireddy and Prasad Lakireddy, who now face maximum jail terms of many times what their father will likely receive, will be back in court on May 15 for a status conference.
Wolf said he expected Judge Armstrong to impose a fair sentence on the elder Reddy. “I think she’s going to do the right thing,” he said. “I hope she won’t be affected by the public outcry which I think comes from a lot of ignorance and prejudice,” he said.