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Another guilty plea in teen-age sex ring

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Thursday June 27, 2002

The son of notorious real estate tycoon Lakireddy Bali Reddy will likely face two years of prison time for his involvement in a family sex smuggling ring in Berkeley. 

Vijay Lakireddy, 32, reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors Wednesday that dismissed charges of importing teenage girls from India for “immoral purposes” in turn for a guilty plea to one count of immigration fraud. Charges of sexual misconduct against Lakireddy were dropped last year after testimony was mishandled by language interpreters. 

Lakireddy’s plea comes one year after his father was sentenced to eight years in prison for smuggling Indian teenagers into Berkeley restaurants and apartments for sex and cheap labor.  

Two additional family members have also received lesser sentences for their roles in the operation, and Lakireddy’s brother is scheduled to go to court in January. 

Prosecutor Stephen Corrigan, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, refused to comment on Tuesday’s plea bargain. The plea comes six months before Lakireddy’s scheduled trial date. 

Lakireddy, during his brief appearance in front of U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland, described the negotiations he had taken up with federal prosecutors only as “long.” 

He left the courtroom, accompanied by his wife and attorney, looking mostly relieved and refusing to comment on the plea agreement. When questioned, Lakireddy said only, “I love my friends, I love my family and I love my country.” 

In the plea bargain, Lakireddy admits to falsifying an immigration visa for an Indian man, Venkateswara Vemireddy, who posed as the father of two Indian girls living illegally in the United States. 

The crime carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, though attorneys on both sides are requesting two years of prison time. A federal judge is scheduled to issue a sentence Sept. 30. 

Outside the federal courthouse in Oakland, a small gathering of woman who have consistently urged stiff penalties for the Berkeley family, expressed disappointment with Tuesday’s events. 

“So many charges were dropped that should have been held against him,” said Oakland resident Carol DeWitt. “This family has exploited people for money and children for sexual purposes for 15 years... . Now they’re only getting a slap on the wrist.” 

Mills College Professor of Sociology Diana Russell echoed the sentiment. 

“What happened to the sexual slavery bit?” Russell said. “Trafficking girls for sex and for labor is a real escalating international problem. To ignore it is appalling.” 

The family’s illegal exploits surfaced in November 1999 when a 17-year-old Indian girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a downtown Berkeley apartment owned by Reddy. 

The girl’s 15-year-old sister, who was also living in the apartment, survived the deadly poisoning that was blamed on improper ventilation and later told police she was brought to the country and forced to have sex. 

Next month, Reddy’s brother Jayaprakash Lakireddy begins serving a one-year sentence in a halfway house for conspiring to commit immigration fraud. Reddy’s sister-in-law Annapurna Lakireddy was sentenced to six months of home detention in April for the same offense. 

Prasad Lakireddy, Reddy’s son and brother of Vijay Lakireddy, has so far refused to enter a plea bargain like his brother and remains scheduled for a January trial.