An Elk Grove woman has been indicted by a federal grand jury for hiding two non-citizens on her property and forcing them into labor for nearly five years, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday.
Dr. Firdos Sheikh, a neurologist, was indicted on two counts of forced labor, two counts of alien harboring for financial gain, one count of obstructing a forced labor investigation and one count of making false statements to federal agents, acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a news release.
Sheikh, 58, hid the two men between October 2008 and June 2013, the indictment said, and "forced them to provide labor and services for her financial benefit." The following month, she lied to federal agents and tried to hide one of the victims from them, the indictment said.
According to multiple online profiles, Sheikh has been affiliated with several Mercy hospitals in the area.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Sheikh's attorney, Thomas Johnson, said that Sheikh denies the allegations, has pleaded not guilty and looks forward to her trial.
"Both of these guys had been in the country illegally for years," Johnson told The Bee on Saturday, "and had found ways to avoid immigration and stay under the radar. There was nothing preventing them from leaving her ranch ever."
Johnson said the men may be making the allegations to change their immigration statuses.
"When a person is a named victim in such a case by the Department of Justice, they may just get a change in their status from being an illegal immigrant to being a legal resident," he said. "So there’s much to be gained for them in this situation."
It's true that immigrant victims of certain criminal activities, including involuntary servitude and trafficking, can be eligible for various types of immigration protection, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Services.
The website for Sheikh's neurology practice says her Sacramento-area office was founded in 1997 after she graduated from UC Davis Medical Center, where she completed a residency and fellowship in Neurology and Electrodiagnostic Medicine.
ICE is investigating the case, which is being prosecuted by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section and Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Gore said. If convicted, Sheikh could face up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution to the victims, he said.