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2 in NJ charged with keeping immigrants as slaves in halal slaughterhouse

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PERTH AMBOY — The owner and manager of a Halal chicken slaughterhouse are being accused of forcing immigrants who were in the country illegally to work nonstop for as little as $2.90 an hour. They also forced them to live in squalid conditions, officials say.

Owner Mohammad Abdul Wahid, 54, of Queens, and manager Mohammed Iqbal Kabir, 42, of the Bronx, are facing federal charges of human trafficking, conspiracy to harbor undocumented persons for financial gain, and Fair Labor Standards Act violations.

The Perth Amboy slaughterhouse was closed in January by health inspectors, federal officials said Tuesday. Wahid also owns a slaughterhouse in Queens, which is still open.

Federal prosecutors said the two men forced two illegal workers to toil for six or seven days a week, working as much as 100 hours a week with no lunch breaks for just $290 — or $2.90 to $4 an hour.

Wahid then deducted $40 from their weekly paychecks as rent for living in a boarding house infested by bugs and with no heat or hot water.

When two Muslim employees complained about the working conditions, including lack of gloves, masks and soap, Wahid and Kabir threatened to call the police on them, prosecutors said. The workers feared being deported if they alerted authorities, prosecutors said.

The state Labor Department, as a matter of policy, does not investigate workers’ immigration status or share workers’ immigration status with federal immigration officials. Nevertheless, unscrupulous employers often use fear of deportation or arrest to exploit illegal workers, officials say.

The federal complaint says all the workers in Wahid’s business were undocumented immigrants. The complaint also refers to co-conspirators who are not named in the charges.

Wahid’s attorney, Mohammed Gangat, declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

“We do deny all charges and intend to have our day in court,” he said Tuesday.

Kabir is being represented by the federal public defender’s office.

The two merchants face as many as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 if convicted of human trafficking, another 10 years and $250,000 fine if convicted of harboring.

The were released on $75,000 unsecured bond with home confinement and electronic monitoring.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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