Two men were arrested on November 30 after an indictment was filed in federal court charging them with forcing employees to work at a halal chicken plant in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Mohammad Abdul Wahid, 54, of Queens, New York, and Mohammed Iqbal Kabir, 42, of Bronx, New York, are charged by complaint with one count each of conspiracy to commit human trafficking related offenses, conspiracy to harbor undocumented persons for financial gain; and violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. The defendants were released on $75,000 unsecured bond each, with home confinement and electronic monitoring.

“We will continue to pursue individuals who attempt to take advantage, and abuse vulnerable victims for financial gain,” Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola, HSI Newark, stated in an ICE release. “I commend our special agents and their law enforcement partners for seeking justice on those vulnerable victims’ behalf and a job well done.”

Allegations made

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from July 2011 through January 2016, Wahid owned and operated a halal chicken slaughterhouse business in Perth Amboy. The business operated pursuant to halal practices, which meant that the live poultry had to be slaughtered by Muslims. The poultry would then be cleaned and prepared for sale by other employees.

During the time that the facility was operational, Wahid and Kabir allegedly employed undocumented persons. The employees were paid approximately $290 a week in cash and would typically work 70 to 100 hours a week, working six or seven days a week, according to court documents.

ICE alleges employees were not paid more if they worked more hours, nor were they given overtime pay. The employees also allegedly lived in a boarding house in front of the business, for which Wahid allegedly deducted $40 a week from the employees’ pay checks. The boarding house did not have heat or hot water and was infested with insects, according to the press release.

The defendants also allegedly employed two Muslim individuals to slaughter the chickens and forced them to continue working at the plant. When these two victims complained about the hours they were working and the conditions of the facility (no gloves, masks or proper soap), the defendants allegedly threatened to call the police. The victims were allegedly afraid of being arrested and deported and they continued to work until health inspectors closed the business.

Potential sentences

The human trafficking charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The harboring undocumented persons for financial gain carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act carry a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of $10,000.