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Varsha Sabhnani & Mahender found guilty for torturing and slaving 2 Indonesian.


Two Indonesian women are entitled to more than $1.1 million in back wages from a wealthy Muttontown couple who were convicted of torturing and enslaving them, according to court papers. But defense attorneys argued in papers the women don't deserve nearly that much - only $214,333.

The two women, Enung and Samirah, who use single names as is common in Indonesia, testified at the trial of Mahender and Varsha Sabhnani that they were forced to work 19-hour days, seven days a week, while being given so little food that they sometimes ate garbage. They also were forced to sleep on mats in a basement kitchen, they testified.

Federal prosecutors reached their figure by concluding the women deserved overtime pay for their work. Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt will decide the issue this week while sentencing the Sabhnanis.

Defense attorneys argued in the papers that the amount should be less because federal prosecutors incorrectly calculated the wages to provide the women "with a financial windfall," and further punish Mahender Sabhnani, 51, and his wife, Varsha, 46. The couple made millions developing and selling perfumes from a home office.

Stephen Scaring and Matthew Brissenden, defense attorneys for Mahender Sabhnani, say labor law "explicitly exempts live-in domestic servants" from earning overtime pay, and that prosecutors failed to subtract the cost of room and board for the women.

After calculating that Samirah was entitled to $365,401 for the 53 months she was at the Sabhnani home, and Enung $185,333 for the 24 months she was there, the government then doubled the amounts - improperly arguing, the defense attorneys said, that those were damages for nonpayment of wages called for under labor laws.

The wage restitution is separate from any civil suit Samirah and Enung may file.

In December, following a six-week trial, the Sabhnanis were convicted of all 12 counts of an indictment, including charges of forced labor, debt servitude and harboring illegal immigrants.

Varsha Sabhnani is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow and Mahender on Friday.

In addition to the payment of wages, Varsha faces a sentence of 12 to 15 years in prison under suggested federal sentencing guidelines. Her husband faces 5 to 6 years. The couple also jointly face fines totaling $300,000, as well as forfeiture of their home, which is valued at almost $2 million.

Varsha Sabhnani faces the greater jail sentence because she was found to have directly tortured the two women in the course of harboring them. Her husband was not.

Enung and Samirah testified that some of the tortures were bizarre, including being forced to eat chile peppers and then the vomit when one of them threw up, being cut behind the ears with Varsha Sabhnani's sharp nails, and being forced to work while wearing eyeglasses with lenses covered with tape.

Varsha Sabhnani has been in prison awaiting sentencing since her conviction. Her husband has been at their home, which has been turned into a virtual prison, complete with armed guards, at a cost to the couple of $15,000 a week.

Varsha Sabhnani's attorney, Jeffrey Hoffman, declined to comment yesterday, as did assistant U.S. attorneys Mark Lesko and Demetri Jones.


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