Authorities in the United States have successfully rescued a 20-year-old Indian student, subjected to months of captivity without access to basic facilities, enduring severe physical abuse and coerced into labour at three different residences. The victim, whose identity remains undisclosed, endured this harrowing experience in the state of Missouri.
On Wednesday, law enforcement intervened at a residence located on a rural highway in St Charles County. Following the intervention, Venkatesh R Sattaru, Sravan Varma Penumetcha, and Nikhil Verma Penmatsa were apprehended. Subsequently, on Thursday, these individuals were formally charged with various offences, including human trafficking, kidnapping, and assault.
The police’s involvement was initiated after a vigilant citizen, upon learning of the victim’s plight, promptly contacted emergency services by dialling 911, leading to the investigation and subsequent rescue operation.
The victim, currently receiving medical care for multiple bone fractures, lacerations, and extensive injuries throughout his body, is reported to be safe, as stated by prosecutor Joe McCulloch.
Allegations reveal that over a seven-month period, the accused individuals confined the student to a basement, compelling him to sleep on an unfinished floor without bathroom access.
According to charges, he resorted to scavenging for sustenance in nearby restaurant dumpsters and suffered brutal beatings with various objects, including electrical wire, PVC pipe, metal rods, wooden boards, sticks, and a water supply hose for a washing machine, as reported by the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a prominent regional newspaper.
Expressing the severity of the situation, McCulloch condemned the acts as “absolutely inhumane and unconscionable” during a press conference on Thursday.
The trio, identified as the defendants, is accused of confining and subjecting the victim to abuse across three distinct residences owned by Sattaru in Defiance, Dardenne Prairie, and O’Fallon, starting from April 2023, according to information available on St Charles County’s official website. Investigators have singled out Sattaru as the alleged ringleader, residing in the O’Fallon home with his wife and children.
The primary suspect in the case, 35-year-old Sattaru, now faces additional charges of human trafficking for purposes of slavery and contributing to human trafficking through the misuse of documentation.
Penumetcha and Penmatsa, the other individuals implicated in the case, reside in the same home where the student was eventually rescued.
Authorities disclosed that the student, who arrived in the United States from India last year with aspirations of studying at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, found himself ensnared in Sattaru’s homes from April onward. Instead of pursuing his academic endeavours, he was compelled to initiate chores at 4:30 am, followed by a full day of work at Sattaru’s IT company, concluding with a list of evening tasks.
As per court documents, the student recounted to the police that he endured a meagre three hours of sleep on a concrete floor within a locked basement, where Sattaru closely monitored him using surveillance cameras.
If the 20-year-old failed to complete the assigned tasks adequately, he faced severe beatings, according to the charges. The allegations state that he was compelled to strip naked and subjected to blows across his entire body. The brutal treatment involved kicking, stomping, and lashing, resulting in injuries that included unresolved fractures and breaks.
On Thursday afternoon, there was no response at Sattaru’s residence, and none of the three men had legal representation listed in court documents.
Prosecutor McCulloch detailed the extent of the abuse, stating, “They beat him with their fists, they stomped on him, they beat him with electrical wiring, with PVC pipes.” The victim was coerced into sleeping in an unfinished basement, endured starvation, and faced restrictions on public access and restroom use.
Commending the vigilant citizen whose call led to the rescue, McCulloch emphasised the importance of reporting suspicious activities. “If you see something, say something. We would much rather check it out and find nothing than have an incident like this that’s been going on for nearly a year,” he stated.
Due to the wealth and political connections of the three suspects in India, McCulloch revealed that they are being held without bond at the St Charles County Jail.
The arrests on Thursday in O’Fallon left neighbours visibly disturbed, with many expressing disbelief as they had previously enjoyed positive interactions with the family. Residents recounted waving to them on the street or engaging in play with the children in the cul-de-sac.
Chirag Shah, a neighbour residing down the street from Sattaru’s home, expressed his shock, stating, “It’s shocking, for sure”.
In Defiance, an unincorporated community recognised for its wineries, gift shops, and location along the Katy Trail, residents observed a heightened police presence at the home starting Wednesday morning, as reported by the local paper.
Initially denied entry by a man in the home, the police eventually witnessed the Indian student emerging from the basement. Trembling uncontrollably and displaying extensive scarring, bruising, and swelling, the charges indicate the severe abuse he endured.
Following his escape, the student informed law enforcement that Sattaru was not only responsible for many of the beatings himself but also directed Penumetcha and Penmatsa to inflict punishment. Sattaru allegedly orchestrated the abuse, instructing them to intensify the beatings if he was dissatisfied with his cousin’s reactions.
The student revealed that he refrained from reporting the trio due to their wealth and influential connections in India, expressing concerns about his safety and that of his family back in India.
Investigators highlighted that the victim was consistently accompanied by at least one of the three suspects, severely restricting his interactions with his family. Contact with his family was reportedly limited to cell phone conversations, always with one of the suspects in close proximity.
Prosecutor McCulloch stated that it remains uncertain whether there could be additional victims associated with this investigation. He urged the public to report any observed suspicious activities, emphasising the importance of vigilance in such cases.