Federal prosecutors are seeking up to 34 years in prison for a former Indian film producer who pleaded guilty to running a Chicago-based sex smuggling ring that lured unsuspecting young actresses from their homelands to the US, where authorities said they were forced into prostitution, physically assaulted and threatened with public disgrace if they complained.
Kishan Modugumudi, 38, pleaded guilty in February 2020 to one sex trafficking count involving one victim. His wife, Chandra, 35, also pleaded guilty to sex trafficking for her role in the scheme, court records show.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall later held a closed-door hearing where she heard directly from some of the Modugumudis victims, including an actress who testified that the pair probably thought none of them would show up to “talk to them,” revealing prosecutors in a court will file a complaint on Friday.
“Yeah, we’re here,” the woman, identified only as Victim C, told the judge, according to the prosecutor’s file. “Women, we are here, and we speak to them. We raise our voice. And we show that they have done something wrong in their lives. They must be sorry until they die.”
By asking for a sentence of between 27 and 34 years for Kishan Modugumudi, prosecutors on file said he was a predator who “hunted the hopes and dreams of young, innocent Indian women with dreams of coming to the United States.” States and advance their careers. †
In a separate filing Friday, prosecutors sentence Kendall Chandra Modugumudi to 27 years in prison.
Both suspects will be sentenced on June 24.
A Tribune report detailing the allegations against the couple in July 2018 caused a stir in Tollywood, a nickname for South India’s vibrant Telugu movie scene, where Kishan Modugumudi had worked as a producer and found his alleged victims.
According to federal prosecutors, Modugumudi lured the actresses to Chicago with the promise of being discovered. Once here on temporary visas, however, the actresses were treated like sex slaves, forced to reside in a dingy two-story apartment building in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood, waiting for their next “date,” it was alleged.
The Modugumudis advertised the girls, some as young as 16, for sex at Indian conferences and cultural events across the country. The pair charged clients up to $3,000 for each sexual encounter, which, according to prosecutors, took place in hotel rooms in Chicago, Dallas, New Jersey, Washington and elsewhere.
To keep the plan going, Modugumudi resorted to physical and sexual assault on the victims, as well as threats to reveal their names, which “would lead to ending their careers and destroying their reputation for the victims and their families in India”, Assistant US Attorney Maureen Merin wrote.
According to Merin, these were not empty threats. Kishan Modugumudi took lewd photos of some of the victims and kept them to blackmail them into silence. Actresses who were sent back to India were constantly threatened with exposure if they expressed themselves, Merin wrote.
One of the actresses, who was 17 at the time, refused to engage in commercial sex acts, prompting Kishan Modugumudi to text his wife, “Is she blabbering?”
“I have threatened to kill her if she says anything,” Chandra Modugumudi replied, according to the prosecution.
Her husband texted back, “Tell her you’d inform her mom if she’s causing any trouble.”
Even after he was arrested and detained without bond, Kishan Modugumudi tried to divulge information about the victims “to gain sympathy in the Indian media and his threats to destroy the lives of his victims, if they dared to turn against him.” and to pronounce his wife, to make it true. ‘ said Merry.
Investigators were able to stop the attempt after intercepting emails he sent to an Indian reporter from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, prosecutors said.
Before his arrest, Kishan Modugumudi had risen to prominence in the Tollywood film industry and co-produced several hit films.
Founded in the silent film era in the early 1900s, the Telugu film industry is one of the oldest and busiest in India. The commercial hub, Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad, holds the Guinness World Record as the largest film studio complex in the world with 47 sound stages.
But Tollywood has also been criticized as a haven for traffickers who use promises of fame to trap young aspiring actresses in the sex trade. According to Reuters, an estimated 200,000 women and children in India are forced into prostitution every year, many lured by the opportunity to model or act in films.
When federal agents searched Modugumudis’ apartment in the 5700 block of West Belden Avenue in February 2018, they found detailed records of the sex acts performed by each girl, including where they took place and how much they had collected, prosecutors said.
The ledgers showed that the couple had brought in at least $617,000 by coercing the victims into commercial sex acts, prosecutors said.