Court record: Lexington couple forced undocumented Indian nationals to work in Subway restaurants

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 20, 2013 

Amrutlal Patel, left, and Dakshaben Patel.

A couple who operate four Subway restaurants in Lexington allegedly employed undocumented Indian nationals who worked long hours for little pay, according to a sworn statement from a federal investigator.

The investigator signed criminal complaints Wednesday charging Amrutlal Patel and his wife, Dakshaben Patel, both 46, with housing, transporting and employing illegal aliens.

One illegal worker, a man in his early 40s who went by the name Danny, told a Subway manager that he was denied food and had been beaten, according to the sworn statement from David A. Ramalho, a Homeland Security Investigations agent.

Danny told the manager that the Patels housed him and three other men from India in a secret room in the basement of their house on Ellerslie Park Boulevard, locking them in at night, according to Ramalho's statement.

Authorities arrested the Patels on Tuesday after searching their home. They remained jailed Wednesday.

The alleged illegal activity lasted from September 2012 until this week, according to the criminal complaint.

Ramalho said the investigation started after a witness went to Lexington police in August to report that "bad things" were happening to workers at Subway stores operated by the Patels.

The witness said people were being coerced to work at the stores, according to the affidavit.

Ramalho did not name the witness, but he identified him as a manager at the couple's four Lexington stores.

The stores are at 1202 Versailles Road, 360 Southland Drive, 630 East Main Street, and inside a Wal-Mart at 500 West New Circle Road, according to the court document.

Amrutlal Patel told another investigator he owns the stores with a cousin, according to Ramalho's statement.

The witness said Danny had asked him to go to police for help, even if it meant Danny would go to jail, because he was tired of how he was being treated, Ramalho said.

Danny told the manager that he owed $97,000 for being brought from India to work for Amrutlal Patel, and another worker said he owed $100,000, according to the sworn statement from Ramalho.

Danny said the interest rate on his debt was 13 percent, the statement said.

A former Subway employee told police Danny worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, even on days when he was sick, Ramalho said.

Lexington police investigated after the initial report from the Subway manager, tracking down information on the Patels and doing extensive surveillance to document that they were transporting and housing illegal aliens, according to Ramalho's affidavit.

When authorities searched the Patels' home Tuesday, they found Danny in a locked room upstairs. There were mattresses on the floor, but no bed frames, according to the affidavit.

Danny told authorities he entered the U.S. illegally through Canada and was arrested, but then skipped a court appearance after posting bond.

He said he knew of the Patels through friends and came to Lexington, Ramalho said.

The witness who first told police about the Indian nationals said he once saw scratches on Danny's neck, and when he asked what happened, Danny said "they hit me, won't give me food," Ramalho said.

During the search at the Patels', however, Danny denied being treated roughly. He said he got a small amount of money, with $1,200 a month going to his wife in India, according to Ramalho's statement.

However, Danny and four other people police interviewed said the Patels knew they were in the country illegally, according to the affidavit.

A man named Rakesh Patel told police he and his wife, Sushilaben Patel, received a total of $2,000 to $2,500 a month to work for Amrutlal and Dakshaben Patel — about $4 to $5 a hour, Ramalho said.

However, the Subway owner also paid the $600 monthly rent on their apartment on Regency Road. There was no television or furniture when police went there, only sleeping bags on the floor.

Sushilaben Patel told police she came into the U.S. "through the Mexican line, like everyone else," Ramalho said in the affidavit.

Another employee told authorities he got food, lodging, transportation and $1,800 a month to work 10 hours a day, seven days a week at the Patels' restaurants.

Lexington police spokesman Sherelle Roberts said Wednesday that the arrests were part of a multi-agency investigation, but she declined to give further details.

Amrutlal and Dakshaben Patel leased the Subway at 630 East Main Street, which was closed for a second day Wednesday, according to the property owner. A note on the front door said it would stay closed until further notice.

Louise Parker of Lexington said Wednesday that she has leased the building that houses the Subway to the Patels for at least five years.

Efforts to reach franchisee managers at Subway's world headquarters Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255. Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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