The four-year criminal prosecution of Berkeley’s most scandalous family ended in federal court Monday when Judge Claudia Wilken sentenced Prasad Lakireddy, 45, to five years probation, one year under house arrest and a $20,000 fine for his role in his family’s plot to smuggle girls into the country for sex and cheap labor.
Judge Wilken reluctantly accepted the sentence suggested in a March plea bargain hearing for Lakireddy, the son of Berkeley Real Estate tycoon, Lakireddy Bali Reddy.
Reddy is believed to control more than 1,000 apartment units in Berkeley and is serving an eight-year sentence for his role in the plot. He has since filed a writ of habeus corpus to overturn his guilty plea.
Wilken said she had difficulty agreeing to the sentence for Lakireddy, but ultimately decided to abide by the recommendation of the parole officer.
Last November Lakireddy, who operates the family’s Berkeley restaurant Pasand Madras Cuisine and Gift, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to employ unauthorized aliens. In return, federal prosecutor Stephen Corrigan dropped the more serious charges that Lakireddy had raped the girls and helped place them under the control of his father.
Vijay Lakireddy, Prasad’s younger brother, is serving two years in a federal prison after pleading guilty to the same charge.
Both plea agreements came after revelations that a court-appointed interpreter had encouraged the prosecution witnesses to embellish the stories of their abuse.
At a sentencing hearing in March, Wilken questioned if the plea bargain proposal for Prasad Lakireddy was too lenient considering other sentences handed down in the case.
Corrigan, however, assured the judge that the evidence against each of the family members was different and that the government had less evidence against Lakireddy than the other defendants.
“We have concerns about the credibility of the people who would be testifying to these charges,” Corrigan said.
Corrigan also concurred with the analysis in a supplemental sentencing report issued by Lakireddy’s defense team arguing in favor of a lighter sentence for Lakireddy.
On the argument that Lakireddy should be sentenced more harshly because his victims were especially vulnerable, his attorney Susan Raffanti held that Lakireddy had no part in choosing them and once they were at the restaurant, he didn’t victimize them in their employment.
She told the court that the alleged victims were treated better than indentured servants. They were paid a salary (below minimum wage) given free groceries and free room in board, she said.
Based on the testimony of defense witnesses, Raffanti added, “they had more financial freedom and ability to save money when the worked at the Reddy family business than they do now.”
Before the sentence was rendered Lakireddy gave a rambling address to the court. He called the charges against him “silly” and said “Thank God I put up resistance against my family’s wishes. I have good values. I hope I raise my children better than their father was raised.”
Regarding the victims, he said they “have sympathy for us and my father.”
On the issue of the interpreter, he said that although he spoke Telegu—the language spoken in the village from where the Reddys hail—he too couldn’t understand all of the witness testimony.
“This is a difficult case for an attorney to understand,” he said adding that he had sent one of his lawyers to India and had offered to arrange a trip for Judge Wilken as well.
Prasad Lakireddy is the fifth and final member of his family to be sentenced following the death of 17-year-old Chanti Prattpati, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning Nov. 24, 1999 in a Berkeley apartment owned by the Reddys.
The girl’s 15-year-old sister survived the gas poisoning, caused by a blocked heating vent, and ultimately told federal authorities that she and her sister were flown to the United States and forced to have sex with members of the Reddy family. In all, prosecutors alleged the family had illegally brought at least 33 men, women and children into the country.
In addition to Lakireddy’s father and brother, his uncle, Jayprakash Lakireddy and his aunt, Annapuma Lakireddy, pled guilty to immigration fraud, but did not receive jail time.
In March the Reddy settled a civil case against four victims. They agreed to pay $2 million in criminal restitution and $8.9 million to the family of Chanti Prattipati. Michael Rubin, the attorney for the victims, said after the hearing Monday that the facts discussed weren’t consistent with the facts he believed to be true, but he had to defer to the judge and the criminal justice system.