A federal grand jury in St. Paul on Tuesday indicted the 71-year-old owner of a popular Thai restaurant in Columbia Heights on one count of forced labor.
The indictment comes two weeks after Pisanu "Pat" Sukhtipyaroge of Maplewood was charged in Anoka County with forcing a teenager from the Dominican Republic to have sex and to work for less than $1 an hour.
Sukhtipyaroge is being held without bail in the Anoka County jail and is set to appear in federal court on Friday.
Frederick Goetz, his attorney, said Wednesday that Sukhtipyaroge "looks forward to appearing in court and pleading not guilty and vigorously fighting these charges."
The federal indictment says Sukhtipyaroge threatened the unidentified victim "and another person" with force, physical restraint and abuse of the legal process if the victim failed to work for him.
According to court records, the investigation stemmed from a referral from the National Human Trafficking Hotline about a Dominican Republic teenager who had worked at the Royal Orchid, which Sukhtipyaroge owns. He allegedly forced the young man to work at the restaurant and coerced him into having sex, at one point threatening him with a knife.
Sukhtipyaroge has worked as a sponsor to poor children through a nonprofit agency in Kansas City, Mo. The group revoked his sponsorship of nine children after the charges were filed. It's not clear if the victim referred to in court filings was a participant in the nonprofit's programs.
Sukhtipyaroge allegedly spent three years convincing the teen to come to Minnesota for an education. He arrived in 2015 at age 18 and attended high school briefly, but said Sukhtipyaroge soon told him that he had to quit school and work in his restaurant. Authorities say that the young man lived in an unfinished storage room and that he was paid less than $1 an hour.
The alleged victim said that he feared immigration authorities once his student visa became invalid after he quit school and that he worried for the safety of his family in the Dominican Republic if he didn't do as he was told.