by Matt Rosenberg August 15th, 2013
In a King County Superior Court plea deal settled August 1 a former Amazon.com software development manager from India named Vishwastam Shukla – who according to his attorney was a rising star at the Seattle company but has lost his job and “most everything” in connection with his crime – agreed to permanent banishment from the United States in return for reduction of charges from felony to gross misdemeanor in an online sex sting. It involved a Seattle Police detective posing as an apparent 15-year-old prostitute on craigslist, and a planned sex-for-money interlude at the Seattle Hyatt while Shukla was in town on company business, from the San Jose, Calif. Amazon unit he headed. He supervised eight other workers. Following the recent court actions Shukla was to have boarded a plane back to India August 3, and had to pay a $5,000 fine. His return to India is to be verified to the court in a hearing scheduled for August 21.
The former inhabitant of an apartment building in the 1400 block of Red Hawk Circle in Fremont, Calif., the 29-year-old Shukla also listed a second residential address in the 2300 block of 3rd Avenue in Seattle according to court records. He is an Indian Institute of Technology graduate who began working for Amazon in India in 2007 and on a U.S. work visa then took a position as a software development manager with the company in San Jose in August 2012 leading a new dev team working on mobile optimization, in an office park building at 2880 Zanker Road.
He was originally charged last April 19 by King County, Wash. prosecutors with the felony offense of attempted commercial sexual abuse of a minor after responding to a craigslist sex-focused “Casual Encounters” section classified ad from an apparent underage hooker, while in Seattle on an Amazon.com business trip, court records indicate. Charging papers alleged that in an ongoing email exchange from April 10 to 12 he agreed to pay $60 for oral sex, cuddling and fondling in a Seattle Hyatt hotel room to the young woman – who was actually a male Seattle Police detective. Then on April 12, prosecutors charged, Shukla paid $20 to a driver he thought was delivering the sex worker to him downstairs outside the hotel, after which he was immediately arrested. In the end, he pleaded guilty to a lesser crime, the gross misdemeanor of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, but with stiff conditions attached.
“It Has Cost Him Most Everything”
In publicly available audiotapes of the August 1 plea hearing and the sentencing hearing which immediately followed, his attorney Jeffrey Cohen states Shukla “lost his job in this case immediately. He had been sent here specifically by Amazon to open one of their facilities down in California. He was thought to be one of their finer employees and he had a team of eight people. It has cost him most everything. He’ll be returning to his home country…and will not be able to gain access again to our country. So I think the price has been paid, many times over, for a lapse in judgement.”
King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Corrin Bohn, agreed, saying to the court, “this matter was very much a negotiated resolution…Mr. Shukla is fully aware of the immigration consequences and in fact acknowledges that he will be deported as a result of this crime and will not be allowed back in the United States…He is fully aware of that…and that is his desire and his wish.”
Asked by Judge Michael Trickey if he wished to comment, Shukla declined.
A plea agreement dated August 1 in the case file confirms that the “defendant agrees to return to India on August 3.”
His guilty plea includes his statement that “between April 10, 2013 and April 12, 2013 in King County, Washington I communicated with someone whom I believed to be a 15-year-old girl for an immoral purpose of a sexual nature. I was subsequently arrested for commercial sexual exploitation of a minor.”
The reduced charge of communication with a minor for immoral purposes under Washington state law is classified as a gross misdemeanor but becomes a Class C felony if a guilty party has a prior felony sex crime conviction or “if the person communicates with a minor or with someone the person believes to be a minor for immoral purposes through the sending of an electronic communication.”
That felony stipulation clearly applies to Shukla’s case based on the police probable cause certification in charging papers, which describes an ongoing email exchange to set up the planned sex-for-money interaction. But the misdemeanor plea deal including permanent deportation from the U.S. superseded a felony on the amended charge.
If Shukla had not voluntarily agreed to deportation in the plea deal he might have faced that outcome anyway as well as jail time first, had he been found guilty on any sex-related charge. A Seattle-based spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that generally individuals here as guests when convicted of a crime are a “priority for removal” but outcomes depend from case to case.
A crime classified by the agency as an “aggravated felony” can lead to removal without any proceedings before an immigration court judge, but other cases which don’t meet that classification threshold can still prompt removal attempts subject to approval of an immigration judge, with appeals allowed to a review board and a U.S. Circuit Court if the defendant desires.
Under the plea deal Shukla will have to register as a sex offender in King County even though he won’t be coming back. He also had to undergo a sexual deviancy evaluation, take an HIV test and on top of the $5,000 fine pay an additional $800 in other court fees and fines. The sentence also included 364 days in jail, suspended in light of the other penalties in the plea deal. Calls to Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener for comment have not yet been returned.