Pasand owner Reddy released on $10M bail  

Source: San Jose Mercury News; January 26, 2000


OAKLAND -- Federal authorities released Lakireddy Bali Reddyy on a $10 million bond Tuesday but tightened their grip on his family, charging his son with encouraging foreigners to illegally enter the United States.

The day brought bittersweet victory for 62-year-old Berkeley landlord, who is accused of fraudulently bringing teenage Indian girls into the country and using them for sex and labor.

Reddy was freed after spending more than a week at Oakland's North County Jail despite opposition from prosecutors, who argued he could use his money and influence to escape and avoid trial. But now his son, Vijay Kumar Lakireddy, 30, faces charges as authorities appear to be casting a wider net in the investigation.

``God and truth are on my side,'' said Vijay Lakireddy of Berkeley, who will remain free pending a detention hearing Friday. His father left the jailhouse late in the afternoon, shielding his face from photographers and reporters as he was whisked away in a white car.

Investigations in the Reddy case are ongoing both in the United States and in his home state of Andhra Pradesh in south India, where Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has ordered a police probe into the businessman's activities. The Indian investigation is in part an attempt to protect Andhra Pradesh's growing reputation as a burgeoning high-tech hub and reliable source for the supply of thousands of software engineers into the United States.

At the bail hearing in Oakland on Tuesday, the courtroom was packed to capacity with relatives, South Asian women's activists and reporters, and many were forced to wait outside.

Hidden holdings alleged

Magistrate Wayne D. Brazil last week postponed Reddy's detention hearing until Tuesday so he could learn more about the defendant's global assets. Prosecutors have said Reddy owns more than $50 million in Berkeley property alone, and suggested he could have hidden holdings.

But Reddy swore under oath Tuesday that outside the United States, his only major assets are properties in India -- including a college he founded -- that are worth an estimated total of less than $1 million.

Still, Brazil took a number of steps to ensure Reddy would not leave the country:

He asked Reddy and a dozen family members to surrender their passports.

He asked family members to sign the bond, which includes $6 million in property owned by Reddy and his relatives. The judge told them that if Reddy disappeared, each would be responsible under the law for the full $10 million.

He froze the assets of Reddy and his extended family, ordering that none of their vast holdings be sold or transferred while Reddy's criminal case is pending.

He ordered Reddy to remain in the custodial care of his brother, Hanimi Reddy Lakireddy, a doctor who lives in Merced. Reddy must abide by a nightly curfew that begins at 10 p.m.

He forbade Reddy from visiting his East Bay homes or businesses, which include the popular Berkeley restaurant Pasand.

Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who has served as a liaison for police and the alleged victims, submitted to the court a list of 87 properties apparently owned by Reddy, his sons and brothers. But Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Kennedy told the judge that Reddy's holdings were really more extensive because he had enlisted his relatives to serve as puppet owners for numerous buildings.

For instance, Hanimi Reddy Lakireddy is listed as owner of 17 properties -- two in Merced, where he lives, 14 in Berkeley and one in Clovis -- worth an estimated $14.3 million. Vijay Lakireddy, who runs a company called Active Tech Solutions, is also listed as owner of six Berkeley properties worth $3.4 million, according to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque also said eight young Indian women employed by Reddy as cleaners have not showed up for work since his arrest on Jan. 14, according to a tip that came in via a phone hotline.

The Reddy investigation was sparked by the accidental carbon monoxide death of a 16-year-old girl -- and the non-fatal poisoning of her 15-year-old sister -- at one of his Berkeley apartments.

Police unravel scheme

After the girl's death, an anonymous tip led police to question her purported parents, who allegedly admitted they were actually a brother and sister brought to the United States and compensated by Reddy for posing as the sisters' parents.

Further questioning revealed an alleged scheme in which Reddy brought workers into the country using high-tech H-1B visas and then put them to work in his restaurant and other businesses.

He is accused of having sex with three teenage girls, including the one who died. The surviving girls, whose true ages have not been established, told authorities they were sold by poor parents to Reddy in his native town of Velveddam in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy's attorney, Ted Cassman, declined to comment Tuesday, other than to say he believed the protracted bail argument was a product of a ``hysteria'' created by the media's coverage of the case.

Son implicated

Although court documents in Reddy's case mentioned the name of his son several times, Tuesday was the first time authorities officially implicated Vijay Lakireddy in the scheme.

Few details were available on the government's allegations against Lakireddy, who was born and raised in Berkeley. His mother, divorced from Reddy, now lives in India.

Vijay Lakireddy has had a previous brush with the law: Court records show the married father of 1 1/2-year-old twins pleaded guilty to felony possession of crack cocaine in 1991. He received a suspended prison sentence and successfully completed an 18-month diversion drug treatment program.

Lakireddy's attorney, George J. Cotsirilos, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.