Owner of Milwaukee-area gas stations charged with forced labor trafficking

The owner of several Milwaukee-area gas stations, Harshinder Bhatia, was charged Tuesday with forced labor involving aggravated sexual abuse, harboring an alien for financial gain, and document servitude.

According to the indictment, between 2009 and 2011, Bhatia, age 58, forced and threatened an Indian national woman to work causing her to believe that if she did not perform such labor and services, she would suffer serious harm. The indictment charges that this crime involved aggravated sexual abuse and was furthered by Bhatia possessing the victim’s passport.

If convicted, Bhatia faces up to five years in prison on the charge of document servitude, up to 10 years in prison on the charge of alien harboring, and up to life in prison on the charge of forced labor. The indictment also notifies Bhatia of the government’s intention to seek forfeiture of a number of real properties used to facilitate these offenses or acquired as proceeds of these offenses.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Erica J. Lounsberry, Eastern District of Wisconsin, is prosecuting this case.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law; every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.