News/US: INS Investigated Landlord in '97

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Subject: News/US: INS Investigated Landlord in '97
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jan 25 2000 - 14:08:33 EST


INS Investigated Landlord in '97
No Evidence More purported victims heard from
Debra Levi Holtz, Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chuck Squatriglia
San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2000

A Berkeley landlord accused of illegally bringing three girls from India
for sex was first investigated in 1997 by immigration agents who found no
evidence of wrongdoing, authorities said yesterday.

By last November, the Immigration and Naturalization Service's probe of
Lakireddy Bali Reddy, 62, had been relegated to periodic spot checks. That
changed when Berkeley police told INS agents about allegations that three
girls were purchased in India and then forced to endure sexual molestation
in Berkeley by Reddy.

Yesterday, investigators said they have received reports about other girls
who may have been victimized by Reddy, and they are analyzing 13 computers
seized this week from Reddy's properties.

Police said they are also investigating a complaint about Reddy in at least
one other state and are trying to determine whether he is involved in a
larger interstate smuggling operation.

Reddy, one of the largest rental property owners in Berkeley, is accused of
using fraudulent visa applications to bring Indian citizens into this
country to work at his restaurants and apartment buildings. The illegal
immigrants included two teenage sisters, one of whom died from carbon
monoxide poisoning attributed to a blocked heater vent in one of Reddy's
Berkeley apartments on November 24.

The girl's younger sister, who survived the poisoning, and another young
woman who lived in the same apartment told investigators that their parents
sold them to Reddy in India years ago and that he brought them to Berkeley
to continue sexual relationships with him that began before they were teens.

Chuck DeMore, San Francisco district director of the INS, said yesterday
that during the initial probe his agency did all it could, including
undercover surveillances of Reddy, who manages 1,000 apartment units and
runs a restaurant, a software company and a construction firm.

The first complaint to the INS came in the form of a ``vague'' letter,
DeMore said.

``At that point, it really was an unsubstantiated allegation that he was
inducing aliens to come,'' DeMore said. ``There was not enough substance to
the initial letter to warrant a lot of investigative inquiry. There were no
names of victims, locations where they could be found or interviewed.''

DeMore said the INS's early investigation showed Reddy to be a
``professionally educated gentleman, with widespread corporate interests,
financial interests. There was nothing to indicate any criminal conduct.''

But, DeMore said, statements made by the surviving sister and her roommate
changed the INS's position on Reddy.

``Clearly (this is) one of the most egregious cases that we have come
across in Northern California in a long time,'' DeMore said. ``It's as if
these individuals were almost sex slaves.''

In a federal complaint filed on Tuesday, Reddy is accused of importing
illegal immigrants ``for the purpose of prostitution and other immoral
purposes'' and of encouraging aliens to enter and reside in the United
States illegally.

Federal authorities say Lakireddy Bali Reddy applied for temporary work
visas for at least 21 Indian citizens to work at a company in Berkeley
owned by his son, Vijay Lakireddy. The company, Active Tech Solutions,
currently has only three employees, however.

But Vijay Lakireddy said yesterday that his computer consulting firm is
expanding and has been petitioning for skilled workers from India because
there is a shortage of engineers in this country.

He vehemently denied any wrongdoing by himself or his father and accused
the immigration service of conducting a ``witch-hunt.''

Vijay Lakireddy said at least a dozen of his employees have been arrested
for not holding U.S. passports by immigration agents outside the family's
homes and businesses this week.

Reddy's eldest son, Prasad Lakireddy, also vehemently defended his father,
calling him a ``nice, kind- hearted person.''

Prasad Lakireddy said the elder Lakireddy has, for 15 years, sponsored
Indians seeking work visas.

``He legally sponsors cooks from India. That's legal.''


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