As the sentencing of Berkeley landlord Lakireddy Bali Reddy approaches, an increasing number of community members are joining the protest against the prosecution’s recommendation to submit Reddy to a minimal punishment of six years in prison and a $2 million fine.
In the past weeks, Saundra Brown Armstrong, the U.S. District Court Judge who will determine the sentence on Tuesday, has received dozens of letters and at least one petition from members of community groups and individuals asking her to sentence Reddy to a harsher prison term of 38 years.
“We find this absolutely outrageous that for his crimes, Reddy could get only six years in prison,” said Diane E. H. Russell, a member of Women Against Sexual Slavery and a leader of the organized campaign against Reddy.
Russell and members of other organizations involved in the campaign consider the recommended sentence an example of the unfair judicial system that favors wealthy and powerful people over the rest.
Last March, Reddy, 63, struck a deal with his prosecutors and pleaded guilty to smuggling four Indian girls into the country for sex and cheap labor.
In exchange, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office recommended the minimal sentence and committed not to file state charges against him for any of the crimes involving his victims, including Chanti Pratipatti, the 17-year-old pregnant girl who died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in one of his properties.
Judge Armstrong will decide whether she accepts the deal on Tuesday. For the activists this represents the last chance for justice.
“We are in dismay with the plea bargain because it means dropping off all possibility of presenting charges for sexual assault and labor violation,” said Shaily Matani, a member of the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action.
The minimal fine Reddy would have to pay his victims if the plea bargaining is maintained is another reason why ASATA wrote to the judge. “We are calling for stronger restitution to be made to the survivors,” Matani said. “The current $2 million is inadequate considering Reddy’s $60 million holdings.”
The letters that the judge received also includes numerous notes from independent citizens willing to defend what they see as ethical values.
“It is important that we express our opinion and put our foot down that we are not going to accept exploitation anywhere,” said Kathy Berger, a Berkeley resident and the author of one of the letters. “There should be harsh penalties for people who imprison other people.”
Meanwhile, Reddy’s attorney, Ted Cassman, found new ways to defend his client. Tuesday, he filed a pre-sentence memorandum arguing that intimate relationships with young girls are culturally accepted in India.
“We ask the court...to consider that ...the norms of (Reddy’s) society were amenable to conduct which is clearly offensive in the U.S.,” the attorney wrote, adding that Reddy had himself been married to a 13-year-old girl when he was 17.
Cassman did not return calls for comment on Friday.
But Indo-American groups immediately reacted saying that Reddy’s practices were not part of their culture.
The organizations active in the case will attend the hearing next Tuesday and protest at 9 a.m. in front of the Federal Courthouse 1301 Clay St.