Los Angeles – Three Indonesian women filed suit today in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging a wealthy Hancock Park businessman and his family fraudulently lured them to the U.S. to serve as caregivers and nannies and then subjected them to unlawful and inhumane working conditions in violation of California’s anti-trafficking law and other related laws. According to the lawsuit, filed by attorneys from the the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Jones Day, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the family withheld the women’s passports and used threats and other psychological abuse to prevent the women from escaping.  

“As the complaint details, our clients were forced to work under inhumane conditions, and were deprived of anything that could be remotely considered fair compensation for their labor.  Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common for immigrants in California, and we applaud our clients for having the courage and resolve to pursue justice and reclaim their lives,” said Brian Hershman, a partner at Jones Day, adding that labor trafficking is not uncommon despite California’s strong anti-trafficking laws.

The lawsuit alleges that Hendra Anwar, a wealthy businessman, and his wife Astati Halim, lured the victims here from Indonesia with promises of good wages and working conditions for their service as caregivers and nannies.  Once the workers arrived in Los Angeles, they faced a dramatically different reality. The couple forced the three women, all with physical disabilities, to perform grueling manual labor.  The women were kept at the family’s beck and call, required to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.                                                                              

Anwar and Halim confiscated the victims’ passports, denied them their promised wages and scared them into believing they would be kidnapped or thrown in jail if they contacted the police or strangers.  When the victims pleaded to return to Indonesia, the couple refused, claiming they were under contract for several more years of service.  When one of the women managed to escape, Anwar, Halim and their agents intimidated her friends and family in the U.S. and Indonesia.

“As someone who was trafficked from Indonesia, I know how hard it is to come forward,” said Ima Matul, CAST’s Survivor Organizer. “Traffickers make you feel very ashamed and guilty. They have a lot of power and influence in Indonesia and they scare you with threats of hurting you and your family. The only way to stop modern slavery is to hold traffickers responsible.”

The victim who escaped contacted the FBI. Federal agents raided the family’s main residence and rescued the two other trafficked workers.  Earlier this year, Halim and Anwar pled guilty in federal court to fraud in procuring the victims’ visas to the U.S. and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and were sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution. On June 3, 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested the couple on three criminal charges of human trafficking.

The lawsuit seeks to recover civil damages for the victims under California’s anti-trafficking statute, as well as under the California labor code and other state laws. 

“We hope that our clients’ bravery in coming forward with their stories will encourage other victims of labor trafficking to come forward to seek justice,” said Justin Ma, supervising attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.  “We urge anyone who knows exploited workers who were brought to the U.S. under similar circumstances to direct them to organizations like ours who can be a resource for them,” he added. 

For immediate help, victims should call CAST’s emergency hotline at 888.KEY.2.FRE(EDOM), 888.539.2373.