MILWAUKEE -- A Wisconsin convenience-store retailer has been charged with harboring an alien for financial gain, forced labor involving aggravated sexual abuse and document servitude, in an indictment issued Oct. 24.
Federal agents allege that Harshinder Bhatia withheld an Indian immigrant’s passport and coerced sex and work from the individual from 2009 to 2011, according to the Department of Justice.
A grand jury indicted Bhatia, the 58-year-old owner of two convenience stores outside Milwaukee, for leveraging the Indian woman’s illegal residency to force her to perform labor and services, according to U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad.
Bhatia could face a life sentence if convicted of forced labor and a combined 15 years in prison for his other charges. The government is set to seize Bhatia’s properties connected with the alleged crimes, Haanstad said. In the meantime, members of the Federal Human Trafficking Task Force will continue to investigate the case.
Human trafficking continues to be a top-of-mind concern for the retail industry. In July, the National Association of Convenience Stores launched a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help thwart the illegal transportation and forced labor of individuals. NACS will supply members with materials and training to spread awareness and prevention of the issue.