NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A federal jury on Wednesday awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers who said they were lured to the U.S. on false promises of visas, then forced to live in squalid labor camps.
The nine-member jury found that Signal International, a ship fitting company with facilities in Pascagoula, Miss. and Orange, Texas, engaged in a labor trafficking scheme with an immigration lawyer and a labor recruiter.
Those caught up in the scheme, laborers from India, were alleged to have paid thousands of dollars in travel and other fees, only to end up in labor camps in Mississippi and Texas where they said they were constantly threatened with deportation if they complained about their horrid situation.
This four-week trial was the first of several against Signal International, New Orleans-based immigration attorney, Malvern C. Burnett and India-based recruiter Sachin Dewan. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan presided.
The jury took two days to arrive at a verdict that the ship fitter and its attorney and recruiter were each guilty of labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination.
As the damages verdict was handed down last week at least one defense attorney wept.
It took an additional three days of deliberation for the jury to decide on the penalty.
The workers are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Crowell & Moring, Coschignano & Baker, The Louisiana Justice Institute and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.