SAN FRANCISCO—A civil lawsuit filed against a Berkeley landlord by four natives of India who claimed they were sexually abused or exploited for cheap labor was settled in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday just before the start of a trial.
The lawsuit was filed against Lakireddy Bali Reddy by a teenage girl, by the estate of the girl’s deceased sister and by another man and woman who came from India to work in Reddy’s businesses.
The lawsuit alleged that both girls were raped, defrauded and denied minimum wages in businesses owned by Reddy after Reddy brought them to Berkeley in 1999.
The alleged abuse came to light after one sister, 14-year-old Vani Prattipati, died of carbon monoxide fumes in a Berkeley apartment owned by Reddy in 1999. The surviving sister, identified as Jane Doe, was 15 at the time.
The other two plaintiffs claimed they were fraudulently lured to the United States for non-existent jobs and then denied minimum wages in menial jobs.
Reddy, 67, pleaded guilty three years ago in a separate federal criminal case to charges of violating immigration laws and bringing girls from India to the United States for illegal sexual purposes.
He is serving an eight-year prison sentence at Lompoc federal prison but appeared in federal court in a business suit this morning for the scheduled opening statements in the civil trial.
But instead of opening the trial, U.S. District Judge William Alsup told the jury, “Part of this case has now been eliminated.’’
The remainder of the lawsuit was settled later in the day, according to lawyers in the case.
Attorneys on both sides declined to give the amount of the financial settlement, but said their clients were pleased with the resolution.
Michael Rubin, a lawyer for the surviving sister and for the family of Vani Prattipati, “They will now have financial security. They’re never going to be able to forget what happened, but they have gained some amount of justice and they’re satisfied with the result.”
Rubin said the surviving sister, who is now 19, and her parents have been granted political asylum and live in an undisclosed location in Northern California.
The attorney said the parents and Jane Doe also settled a separate wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit pending against Reddy in Alameda County Superior Court.
In addition to Reddy, the defendants in the federal lawsuit were two of his sons, two of his brothers, and nine businesses allegedly owned by Reddy and other family members.
Michael Bolechowski, a lawyer for Reddy, said, “The whole Lakireddy family is just grateful that the whole case is behind them. They are looking forward to getting their lives in order just as the plaintiffs are going to be able to get their lives in order.’’
Bolechowski said preparing for the now canceled trial “was a painful experience for everyone.’’
In the criminal case, Reddy was ordered to pay $2 million in restitution to four victims. Bolechowski said Reddy paid the restitution within several days of being sentenced in 2001.
—Bay City Newsœ