• Workers presented as volunteers trained in stone carving and paintings
  • Forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with few days off
  • Not allowed to have their passports and were kept under surveillance

A prominent Hindu sect in the U.S. that was raided in New Jersey by federal agencies investigating labor and immigration law violations has become embroiled in a wider a human trafficking lawsuit. Indian workers from four more states joined the lawsuit that alleged that the sect lured them into the United States and forced them to build a temple in New Jersey for as little as $1.20 a day.

The initial lawsuit was filed in May after the FBI descended on the temple at Robbinsville, New Jersey and removed about 100 workers in an early-morning action, the New York Times reported. At the time, the lawsuit focused only on the New Jersey site where workers were made to work seven days a week to build and maintain a large worship site.

The organization presented the workers, mostly from marginalized sections in India, to U.S. immigration officials as volunteers who specialized works such as stone carving and paintings. It enabled them to qualify under R-1 visas, which are meant for "those who minister, or work in religious vocations or occupations," Associated Press reported.

Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a Delaware-registered corporation and one of the largest Hindu Sects in the United States, is accused of forcing Indian laborers to work in temples near Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. Workers at the New Jersey temple claimed that the sect leaders coerced them into signing employment agreements that forced them to work more than 12 hours per day with few days off.

BAPS denied any wrong doing. "U.S. Government officials have authorized the use of R-1 visas for stone artisans for 20 years, and federal, state, and local government agencies have regularly visited and inspected all of the construction projects on which those artisans volunteered," Paul Fishman, an attorney representing BAPS, told AP on Wednesday.

The lawsuit amended last month alleged that hundreds of workers were paid well below the standards set by federal and state minimum wage laws and had worked on several sites and some of them had worked as long as eight to nine years.

Similar accusations were made by the workers in four other states. Multiple workers stated that they weren't allowed to have their passports and were forced to sleep in large halls on the temple grounds under surveillance.

"At the Robbinsville temple and elsewhere, the defendants intentionally caused the workers to reasonably believe that if they tried to leave their work and the temple compounds, they would suffer physical restraint and serious harm," the lawsuit documents obtained by the Associated Press claimed.

It is unclear if the federal agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor are criminally investigating the organization.

The organization is made up of both for-profit and non-profit entities.