Qatar military official accused of enslaving servants in Texas, pleads guilty to lesser charge

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A military official from Qatar and his wife, accused by prosecutors of keeping two servants in slave-like conditions while they lived in Texas, face deportation after pleading guilty in federal court on Friday (Dec 11) to lesser charges.

Hassan Al-Homoud, 46, pleaded guilty to visa fraud and his wife Zainab Al-Hosani, 39, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, pleaded guilty to knowing that a felony was taking place but failing to report it, the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas said.

They will be sentenced in February and likely deported at that time, a federal judge said, adding he would have handed down a harsher sentence but could not since the servants refused to testify against the couple.

The two, who remain free on bond, could have faced up to 20 years in prison on charges of engaging in forced labor.

Al-Homoud was undergoing military training at Camp Bullis, an Army post near San Antonio. He and his wife brought the servants with them from Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Prosecutors said the couple kept the servants in primitive conditions, withholding wages and providing them with only limited amounts of food.

They also took their passports to ensure they would not try to escape.

"I want the parties to know that this court was prepared to try this case but it made it difficult when the two victims did not want to go forward," US District Judge Orlando Garcia, visibly upset, said in court.

As part of the plea agreement, Judge Garcia is expected to order the couple to pay each of the servants US$60,000 (S$84,800) and to leave the United States and never come back.

Mr Gerald Goldstein, the couple's defence lawyer, assured the judge they would leave the country within hours of sentencing.