Three men in Missouri have been charged with trapping a 20-year-old Indian student forcing him to do chores, work and endure severe beatings at the hands of his cousin and two other men.
The victim, whose name has not been released, had come to the US from India last year with hopes of studying at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, according to local media reports. Instead, he spent seven months trapped in homes across St. Charles County, Missouri, before he was rescued by the police Wednesday.
Over seven months, the three men locked the student in a basement and forced him to sleep on an unfinished floor without access to a bathroom, according to charges filed against them, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Five Indian Americans charged with Illegally moving $600 million (September 8, 2023)
He scavenged for scraps in nearby restaurant dumpsters and was beaten with electrical wire, PVC pipe, metal rods, wooden boards, sticks and a water supply hose for a washing machine.
After raiding a home on a rural highway in St. Charles County on Wednesday, police arrested Venkatesh R. Sattaru, Sravan Varma Penumetcha and Nikhil Verma Penmatsa.
They were charged with offenses including human trafficking, kidnapping and assault on Thursday, according to the Post-Dispatch.
“It’s absolutely inhumane and unconscionable that one human being could treat another human being like this,” said prosecutor Joe McCulloch in a news conference Thursday.
The student spent time locked inside houses in O’Fallon, Dardenne Prairie and the unincorporated community of Defiance.
Sattaru, who owns all three houses and was identified by investigators as the ringleader, lives in the O’Fallon home with his wife and children.
Penumetcha and Penmatsa live in the Defiance home in the 3900 block of Highway D where the student was rescued.
On coming to the US, the student was taken to Sattaru’s homes beginning in April and was forced to begin chores around 4:30 am, work a full day for Sattaru’s IT company and then complete a list of evening tasks.
The student told police he regularly got three hours of sleep on a concrete floor in a locked basement where Sattaru monitored him with a surveillance camera, according to court documents.
If the 20-year-old didn’t complete the tasks properly, he was severely beaten. Charges say he was forced to strip down naked and was hit all over his body. He was kicked, stomped and lashed, charges say, and his injuries included previous fractures and breaks that did not heal properly.
Police were told at first by a man in the home that they couldn’t come inside, but the 20-year-old eventually came running from the basement. He was trembling uncontrollably, heavily scarred and suffering from bruising and swelling all over his body, charges say.
Police were first called to the home in Defiance around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to perform a wellness check.
They said they’d been tipped off by someone who saw the student at a restaurant earlier this week and was concerned because he looked injured and anxious. The tipster gave him a phone number to contact if he needed help, then called police after receiving a message from him on Wednesday morning.
After fleeing the home, the student told police that Sattaru would often beat him himself, but Penumetcha and Penmatsa sometimes punished him too.
Sattaru would call the pair and tell them to beat the 20-year-old, then tell them to hit him harder if Sattaru was not satisfied with his cousin’s cries of pain, authorities said.
The student said he was afraid to report the trio because they were wealthy and had powerful connections in India. He said he feared for his safety, as well as his family’s in India.
A website called Sattaru.com boasts that Sattaru is a member of a “renowned family with business background,” and he’s posted photos with leaders of an Indian political party.
Sattaru faces charges of trafficking for slavery, involuntary servitude or forced labor, contributing to human trafficking, first-degree assault, armed criminal action, kidnapping and abuse through forced labor.
Penmatsa and Penumetcha were charged with being accessories to human trafficking, abuse through forced labor, assault, armed criminal action and kidnapping. Penmatsa is also charged with an additional count of assault.
All three were ordered to be held without bond. Their next court dates had not been set as of Thursday evening.
in O’Fallon were shaken by the arrests on Thursday, according to the newspaper. Many said they’d had pleasant interactions with the family, waving as they passed on the street or playing with children in the cul-de-sac.
“It’s shocking, for sure,” Chirag Shah, who lives down the street from Sattaru’s home, was quoted as saying.