CUMMING - The attorney for a Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy and two of his family members accused of human trafficking says the government got it wrong.
Atlanta attorney Manny Arora, who is representing Russell Garrett, his wife and father, said the charges don’t reflect the character of his clients.
"I think when you talk to the neighbors, when you find out what kind of people the Garretts are, I think the government just made a mistake," Arora said.
Russell Garrett and his wife, Malika Garrett, both of Woodstock, and Garrett’s father, Fulton County Magistrate Judge D. William Garrett Jr., pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges of human trafficking, alien harboring, witness tampering and making false statements.
Arora said he is trying to get "some semblance of normalcy back for them while this process goes on."
"It’s a very difficult time because they’re being accused of a lot of things and being vilified in the press, and they’re doing the best they can," he said.
Russell Garrett, 43, has been suspended with pay from his post in the sheriff’s office courthouse services division. Garrett started work at the sheriff’s office in August 2002. Forsyth County Sheriff Ted Paxton said Garrett was placed on leave as soon as authorities learned of the indictment. Garrett also is the subject of an internal investigation.
Garrett’s supervisor, Capt. Chris Barrett, said the deputy’s duties included providing general security for the public and officers of the court.
Barrett said Garrett was notified about three months ago of the investigation and that charges against him would go before a federal grand jury. He said he didn’t think Garrett knew what the investigation was about. Barrett said he was surprised by the charges against Garrett "because he’s a good officer."
"I feel sorry for his family," Barrett said. "But you never know the whole story. People do strange things."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are investigating the case.
If convicted, Russell Garrett faces up to 50 years in prison, according to a report from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. D. William Garrett, 72, could be sentenced to 10 years in prison, while Malika Garrett, 42, faces a maximum of 60 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said in a statement that the case is an "example of alleged domestic servitude of a nanny brought over from India."
The nine-count indictment contends that the defendants conspired in January 2003 to persuade a woman from India to enter the United States under the guise that she would work as a nanny for Russell and Malika Garrett.
Russell and Malika Garrett then stopped paying the woman, restricted her freedom and ability to leave their home and threatened to defame her to her family in India if she refused to work for them, according to the indictment.
"Malika and Russell Garrett insulted her, intimidated her and threatened her with jail and deportation" in an effort to control her, according to the indictment.
The woman reportedly was working 16 hours a day for the Garretts and escaped with help from a neighbor.
"This type of abuse is insidious, as it preys upon those who are vulnerable due to their immigration status and unfamiliarity with this country’s legal system," Nahmias said.
"Not paying someone for their hard work, and then threatening them with deportation if they report such abuse is a violation of federal civil rights laws. The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute this form of modern day slavery."
According to her Web site, Malika Garrett is a native of India and attended Wesleyan College in Macon. Her paintings and photography are featured on the site, as well as links to media reports about her art. The site also features photos of her family.
After the nanny escaped, Malika and Russell Garrett conspired to spread negative rumors about the woman in her Atlanta neighborhood and Indian community, according to the indictment.
The couple allegedly reported her illegal status to federal authorities and falsely accused her of terrorism-related activities to the Department of Homeland Security.
The indictment maintains that Garrett and his father made false statements to the State Department to obtain a visa for the teen, attaching documents showing they were in law enforcement.
In addition, it contends, Malika Garrett made false statements to the Department of Homeland Security to obtain a visa extension for the woman.