[Stop-traffic] News/US: Berkeley boycotts eatery of landlord charged in sex, labor scandal

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Berkeley boycotts eatery of landlord charged in sex, labor scandal
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jan 04 2001 - 20:46:47 EST


Berkeley boycotts eatery of landlord charged in sex, labor scandal
By Tony Hicks
Contra Costa Times, December 21, 2000

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The city has officially endorsed a boycott of the
Indian restaurant owned by Lakireddy Bali Reddy, the Berkeley landlord
accused of importing girls from his native India for cheap labor and sex.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to join the boycott of Pasand Madras
Indian Cuisine that was launched months ago by Women Against Sexual
Slavery, an advocacy group that often pickets outside the Shattuck Avenue
restaurant.

Councilwomen Polly Armstrong and Miriam Hawley dissented.

"I would feel more comfortable waiting for the courts to make a decision,"
said Hawley.

Reddy, 63, and four family members are accused of conspiring to commit
immigration fraud. Between October 1986 and January 2000, the five
relatives allegedly brought 33 people into the country illegally.

Reddy and his son, 31-year-old Vijay Kumar Lakireddy, face the most serious
charges, which include allegations of importing two South Indian girls for
sex with Reddy.

Armstrong called the charges "heinous," but cautioned colleagues not to
punish innocent people.

"The flip side is, how many (restaurant) jobs might be lost by people who
had nothing to do with the crimes," Armstrong said. "As far as I know, the
entire families of these people were not involved."

Prasad Lakireddy, 42, who runs the restaurant and is included in the
allegations, said Wednesday he wasn't aware of the council's decision.

"I don't know what to say_I'm shocked," he said. "We have a right to due
process and we should not be treated unfairly."

The allegations came to light about a year ago as police investigated the
death of a pregnant 17- year-old girl who died from carbon monoxide fumes
from a faulty wall heater in one of the estimated 1,000 units Reddy owns in
Berkeley.

The girl was one of two sisters Reddy allegedly imported for sex.

Mayor Shirley Dean said she understood Armstrong and Hawley's arguments.
But a pending plea deal revealed in October clinched it for her.

"The patriarch of the family is willing and ready to plead guilty," she
said. "That kind of changes it for me. That makes me say 'Don't support
this restaurant.' "

The plea deal, however, may not be as firm as earlier thought. Court
documents filed this week show that Prasad Lakireddy decided earlier this
month that he no longer wants to plead guilty. Assistant U.S. Attorney John
Kennedy told a federal judge on Tuesday that it was an "all-or-no deal." A
new court date has been set for February.

Reddy and Vijay Lakireddy are free on bail. The other three family members
are part of the plea deal but have not been indicted.

Prasad Lakireddy said business has remained slow since the boycott started,
but is rebounding.

"We have a lot of regular customers who say, 'We want to make a choice on
our own,' " he said.

Dean said there is nothing binding about the city's support for the
boycott. The city won't force its employees to avoid the restaurant and
won't actively participate in the boycott.

The city has supported boycotts of other businesses within its borders. In
fact, the council lifted one such boycott Tuesday against the Radisson
Hotel, after the hotel reached a labor agreement with employees.

But Dean said the city has never made such a statement against a business
owner for alleged criminal activities.

"This is new territory," said Dean. "It's a statement about what happened."

Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

Please contact me off-list for any questions about Stop-Traffic at
<<morhant@igc.org>>.

Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
Program for Appropriate Technology in Health
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