On Wednesday, August 16, 2017, Acting United States Attorney Gregory G. Brooker announced that a federal grand jury had returned an indictment in an ongoing investigation against the owner of a Thai restaurant in Columbia Heights, Minnesota. 71-year-old Pisanu Sukhtipyaroge, or “Pat”, has been charged with a single count of forced labor. The defendant is scheduled to make an initial appearance in a U.S. District Count in Minneapolis on August 18, 2017. Pat is the owner of the Royal Orchid Restaurant.

According to the indictment and an associated affidavit, law enforcement received a tip from the National Human Trafficking Hotline on July 21, 2017. The tip was in connection with a labor and sex trafficking victim. Law enforcement agents made contact with the victim shortly thereafter. The victim said he was brought to the United States from the Dominican Republic by “Pat”, with the promise of education opportunities and the chance of a better life for the victim and his family.

After arriving in the United States, circumstances changed immensely. According to the reports, Sukhtipyaroge prohibited the victim from attention high school and imposed a debt on the victim for his travel expenses. It is also alleged that the victim was forced to work in “Pat’s” restaurant and engage in sexual acts. Pat is accused of forcing the victim to live in a basement storage room and work for an hourly wage of roughly $0.78 per hour.

According to the indictment and affidavit, Sukhtipyaroge controlled the victim from October 15, 2015 to July 23, 2017 utilizing a combination of coercion, physical threats, debt bondage, intimidation, psychological abuse, and threats of legal process. Simultaneously, the defendant has been charged in Anoka County with a single felony count of 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct and a single count of labor trafficking.

The ongoing investigation is being carried out by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General. The agencies have received assistance from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura M. Provinzino and Melinda A. Williams are prosecuting the case. The 71-year-old defendant from Maplewood, Minnesota is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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