On Dec. 12, Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was arrested by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security on charges of visa fraud related to her treatment of Sangeeta Richard, her housekeeper. She was turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service. Once in custody, she was strip-searched.
The charge against Khobragade is that she brought Richard to the United States promising to pay her $9.75 but then forced Richard to sign a separate contract where she was to be paid only about $3.31 an hour. Indian born, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said “This type of fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual will not be tolerated.” He is vigorously opposing her claim that she has diplomatic immunity.
Meanwhile, mobs of outraged Indians, not to mention the government itself are vociferously, if not violently, protesting the “insult” to the Indian nation. But if they only knew what exactly went down… I take you there.
“Howdy Ma’am,” the US Marshal said as, nearly simultaneously, he dismounted from his black SUV and settled his broad-brimmed Stetson on his head. He was grinning in a manner somewhere between benign and malicious at a pretty, thirty-something woman with an aristocratic bearing dressed in an overcoat atop a sari. “I got this here warrant to take y’all inta custody.”
“On what charges?” Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York asked with indignation.
The marshal unfolded the warrant. “Says here you lied on a visa application. Promised you’d pay your housekeeper nine bucks, seventy-five an hour but only paid her three thirty-one. Oh, an’ before I fergit, I gotta read you yer rights. Ya have the right ta remain silent. Anything ya say can be used aginst ya…
Devyani, held up a hand, interrupting him and shook her head. “I’m a diplomat. I have immunity. You can’t arrest me.”
“Oh?” said the marshal, “what country?”
“India,” Devyani said.
The marshal snorted. “You an Indian? We arrest Indians all the time. Could kinda say we specialize in Indians. What tribe ya from?”
Devyani stamped her foot. “Not those kinds of Indians. Real ones. From India. That’s a country with a whole ocean named after it. Even the US doesn’t have one of those.
“Really?” the marshal replied with a snort. “How much did y’all hafta pay for the namin’ rights?”
She wanted to call him a nitwit, but except for rolling her eyes, restrained herself. “That was way before my time,” she said with a shrug. “Doesn’t it seem to you like we’re going through a lot of drama here? You could have called and arranged a discreet surrender. After all we’re talking about six bucks an hour. If he saw six dollars on the ground Mark Zuckerberg would lose money by bending down down to pick them up.”
The marshal nodded. At least they could agree on something, he thought.
“This is discrimination,” Devyani shouted. “You let Wall Street tycoons surrender.”
“Ma’am, you ain’t one of them. Besides, we don’t arrest a lot of ‘em anyway.”
“Yes, I suppose you’ve got bigger fish to fry, such as Indian diplomats accused of underpaying their domestic help.”
“Ain’t for me to say, ma’am. But the fella that got this here warrant, our US Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, he’s Indian too, ‘cept he done become an American, so how can that be discrimination? An’ in this press conference he said, ‘This type a fraud on the United States and exploitation of an individual ain’t gonna be tolerated.’”
Devyani sniffed. “I bet he never said ‘ain’t’,” she said. “and besides, I’ve heard that one of the members of your own Supreme Court, a fellow by the name of Clarence Thomas, I think, lied under oath for seventeen straight years on his required financial disclosures, concealing from the public that his wife was earning a salary from the Heritage Foundation to influence issues that were likely to come before his court. What did your government do about that? Nothing. No charges. No arrest. Not-a-thing.”
“Well, ma’am, I ain’t no lawyer an’ no policy-maker neither but it ain’t the same kinda fraud, I guess. All he an’ his wife was tryin’ ta do was promote conservative public policies by influencin’ members of Congress an’ their staff members, policymakers in the executive branch, the media, an’ the aky-demic an’ policy communities. That sure ain’t the same thing as rippin’ off the wages of a single housekeeper. Let me jus’ hold down the top of ya head, ma’am, so ya don’t bump it whilst I put ya in the back seat.”
“So what happens now?” Devyani asked, becoming resigned to her fate.
“Aw shucks, ma’am, nothin’ much. Jus’ a little strip search, then we’ll toss ya in a holdin’ cell with a bunch of drunks an’ dope addicts ‘til your lawyer can bail ya out.”
Devyani began to shudder. In her world she was an aristocrat—one of the privileged. To treat her this way was unthinkable. “This isn’t going to help diplomatic relations between our two countries,” she muttered. “In our part of the world we’re just about the only friends you’ve got.”
From his reflection in the rear-view mirror she could see him blink. “Ma’am, we’re the world’s policeman, an’ you can take it from me, cops gotta learn ta get by without a heck of a lot of friends.”
And so, that’s how another one of our friends bit the dust.
Thomas is required to make financial disclosures under 5 U.S.C. App. §102. The forms revealed that during a thirteen year period he reported his wife, Virginia’s income as “None” when she earned over $1.6 million. Part of that time, she was at the Heritage Foundation, “whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies” and to influence “members of Congress, key congressional staff members, policymakers in the executive branch, the nation’s news media, and the academic and policy communities”
“Any individual who knowingly and willfully falsifies … this report may be subject to …criminal sanctions” citing 5 U.S.C. app. §104.