US court summons company owner

Updated on Feb 15, 2008 03:35 PM IST
John Pickle has been summoned to explain why he has not paid the $1.3 million compensation he was ordered to give to 52 former Indian employees for ill treatment.
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IANS | ByParveen Chopra, New York

A US court has summoned the owner of a company on February 20 to explain why he has not paid the $1.3 million compensation he was ordered to give to 52 former Indian employees two years ago for ill treating them.

John Pickle, owner of the now-closed John Pickle Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been ordered to appear before a district court in Oklahoma February 20 to explain why he has defaulted on the payment to the Indian men who were held as virtual slaves in his factory premises.

Pickle must also turn over financial documents, tax records and a list of assets to the court. A bench warrant will be issued for his arrest if he does not appear in the court of magistrate Sam Joyner.

Pickle was earlier ordered to appear in court Jan 16 but his attorney asked for more time because the summons were not personally served to their client.

The story goes back to October 2001 when John Pickle Company, manufacturers of equipment for oil refineries and power plants, recruited 52 skilled welders and fitters from India through Mumbai's Al Samit International agency.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2003, the men were promised good salaries, accommodation, food and green cards. But when they arrived at the Tulsa factory, Pickle's wife confiscated their passports. They were allegedly paid $2-$3 per hour and though skilled, they were forced to do menial tasks such as cleaning toilets and moving septic tanks.

Further, they were forced to sleep in makeshift barracks inside the factory. Food was severely rationed and the men were barred from leaving the factory gates, threatened with deportation if they left.

With the help of church workers, they left the plant in early 2002 and sought legal help. Their civil suit was joined by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In October 2006, US District Court Judge Claire Eagan found John Pickle Company guilty of fraud, false imprisonment and civil rights violations and ordered the owner to pay compensation of $1.3 million.

But seeing no payment forthcoming from Pickle, Kent Felty, an attorney for the plaintiffs, filed a petition in October 2007, asking the judge to void transfers of properties and assets and to place a lien against properties until the amount was paid.

The judgement was delivered against Pickle personally and his company.

In an interview on National Public Radio, Pickle had boasted about transferring assets to family members to avoid paying. Federal officials have also accused him of transferring property to third parties.

Though the Tulsa plant is shut, Pickle has a business in Kuwait, John Pickle Middle East, the pressure-vessel division of Kuwait Pipe Industries and Oil Services Company (KPS).

If Pickle is found guilty of fraudulently transferring assets, the court can try to get the amount of judgement from family members who now own Pickle's property, said Felty.

Those who have followed the case say Pickle was feeling a pinch competing in the global economy. But instead of setting up a factory in India or a country with cheap labour, he tried to get work done from imported labour here on the cheap.

Many of his Indian victims have now settled in the US after they were given T visas, created by Congress in 2000 for victims of human trafficking. The visas are initially issued for a period of three years and can be renewed annually until permanent residency is granted.

The story of the defrauded Indian workers, held as virtual slaves, is told by journalist John Bowe in his 2007 book titled "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy".

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