A Lexington couple charged with harboring illegal aliens can be released from custody, but only under lengthy and specific restrictions, a U.S. magistrate judge ruled Wednesday.
Among other things, Amrutlal Patel and his wife, Dakshaben each must post a $12,500 bond, surrender their passports, and essentially remain under home incarceration in Lexington during their release, according to terms imposed by Magistrate Judge Robert Wier.
Attorney Mark Wohlander, who is representing the Patels, said they will be released Thursday morning. They have been held in the Fayette County Detention Center since their arrest on Nov. 19.
The Patels are charged in separate federal complaints with knowingly harboring and concealing undocumented Indian nationals, whom the Patels employed in four Lexington Subway outlets that they operate. The outlets are at 1202 Versailles Road, 630 East Main Street, 360 Southland Drive, and inside a Wal-Mart at 500 West New Circle Road
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Federal authorities have charged that the illegal aliens were required to work long hours, up to seven days a week, for as little as $4 to $5 per hour. The Patels are from India, but have lived in the U.S. since about 2006. Federal prosecutors previously had asked Wier to keep both Patels in custody, saying there was a significant risk that they might flee the country if they were released.
During Wednesday's hearing, Wier said that after reviewing the case he had concluded that the Patels' flight risk actually was low. Wier said that was "not an easy decision to reach," but he thought it was the "correct decision."
Based on his review of the case, Wier said, the Patels could be given a light sentence or even put on probation if they are convicted. He said it is not clear whether the Patels were harboring aliens or just knowingly employing them. Simply employing aliens knowingly would only constitute a misdemeanor and "not felony conduct," Wier said.
In addition, Wier noted that both the Patels have faced criminal charges in the past — a theft by unlawful taking charge against Dakeshaben Patel and a battery charge against Amrutlal Patel. Neither fled the country in those instances, and that is strong evidence they could be trusted for release, Wier said. Nevertheless, the Patels will have to meet stringent requirements under Wier's release order.
In addition to posting bonds and giving up their passports, the couple will be prohibited from traveling outside Fayette County, unless exceptions are granted by the court. They'll have to remain in their home at all times, and wear GPS bracelets that track their movement while they are out of jail on bond.
The Patels will be allowed to operate their businesses, but the operations will have to comply with all federal laws, the judge said.
The Patels are prohibited from transferring any funds overseas, and must get federal permission before making any financial transactions of more than $5,000. They also cannot possess firearms or ammunition, and are banned from contacting any witnesses in the case while they're on release.
Wier cautioned both Patels that any violations would put them back behind bars, and potentially could add to their sentences if they're convicted.
"Your freedom and liberty depend on you," he said.
Federal prosecutors said they disagreed with Wier's ruling, but they declined to appeal it.