OAKLAND – Adding 21 months to the original plea bargain agreement between prosecutors and the defense, a federal judge sentenced wealthy Berkeley landlord Lakireddy Bali Reddy Tuesday to 97 months in prison and the payment to his victims of $2 million in restitution.
Reddy pleaded guilty March 7 to one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, two counts of transporting a minor for illegal sex and one count of submitting a false tax return in 1998 by lying about his foreign bank accounts in India.
In the Tuesday morning standing-room only court session, federal District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong refused the plea deal and sent the two parties back to the negotiating table for some fine tuning. The judge argued that the original six and one-half year prison term should be enhanced because Reddy had participated in the obstruction of justice after his arrest and the victims had received severe psychological trauma as a result of their ordeal.
By 3 p.m., the two sides had agreed to accept a stiffer sentence.
At the same time, the judge used her discretion to knock off some of Reddy’s potential jail time because he said he was remorseful for his acts.
The judge’s call for the longer sentence was motivated by an investigative report written by a federal probation officer. According to the report, Reddy’s relatives gave three of the victims, identified only as victims No. 4, 5 and 7, airplane tickets to go to India, gave the girls money and instructed them stay away from the village where they grew up and where Reddy still owns a villa.
In India, Armstrong said, the three victims were brought to the villa. “Reddy spoke to each by telephone, telling them to stay (in India) until they were told they could return to the United States.”
Reddy’s attorney, Ted Cassman, said Reddy spoke with one, not three of the girls, although the others might have been on the phone line. And he argued that the conversation was not willful obstruction of justice. Rather, according to Cassman, Reddy advised the young woman, known as Victim No. 5, to stay in India, until “everything was OK.” Then Cassman said Reddy told her: “I’ll find you a new husband.”
U.S. Attorney John Kennedy, the prosecutor, echoed what Cassman had said, but the judge responded that the “court obviously has a responsibility to make its own assessment.”
The second reason for the enhanced sentencing cited by the judge was the “psychological injuries the victims have sustained.”
Armstrong spoke about Reddy’s impact on the victims’ lives, noting that Victim No. 1 had endured physical, sexual and verbal abuse for over seven years. As a result, she experiences severe headaches, depression and panic attacks. She even tried to kill herself.
The judge underscored the “severity,” and “duration,” of the crimes and that the women were as young as 13 years old. “Here they are isolated, without friends and family and a support system. They were fully dependent on (Reddy) for care,” she said.
Kennedy argued the original plea bargain took into account the “vulnerable age” of the girls in question and “Mr. Reddy’s leadership role was factored in.”
The idea of the plea bargain was to get the funds to the victims as soon as possible so that they could pay for counseling and move ahead in their lives, Kennedy said.
But Armstrong argued that restitution was not a motivating factor, since “the victims were offered large sums of money not to come back to the United States” and they came back anyway.
Both the prosecution and the defense attorneys argued that the victims wanted the case put to rest and did not want it to go to trial, where they would have to testify against Reddy. “Mostly, they want it to be over,” said Cassman’s law partner, Cristina Arguedas.
The victims’ lawyers, who may file a civil lawsuit, spoke before the judge, confirming that they did not want the case to go to trial.
Armstrong responded, however, that “the case is not just about these victims. It is the intent of society to insure that this does not continue. It’s not just about these individuals.”
Arguedas further argued that Reddy, 64, would be 70 when he left prison, and should not be kept there any longer than six years. But Armstrong once again reminded the court that the girls were as young as 13 when Reddy gained control over them.
At that, applause broke out in the courtroom. The clerk of the court silenced the spectators.
Arguedas continued, explaining to the judge that she understood the ages of the girls was a factor and did not mean to “minimize the vulnerability of the victims.”
“(Reddy) was here, sobbing about it when he entered his plea,” she said, reminding the court that “these events are not the sum total of his life.”
The judge took that into consideration.
She told the court that, along with letters calling for a lengthy prison sentence, she had received letters touting Reddy’s virtues, including his philanthropy. Reddy funded a school in India, among other good works.
“I think the judge made a very fair decision,” Arguedas said, speaking to reporters outside the courtroom. “I think she put a lot of care and thought into it. She balanced a lot of competing considerations. It was a just result and she has to be credited for it.”
It has not yet been determined where Reddy will serve his sentence. He will be eligible for parole after six years and 10 months.
Daily Planet reporter Daniela Mohor contributed to this story.