Indian singer convicted of trafficking jobseekers to America

FILE- In this June 11, 2005 file photo, popular Indian folk singer Daler Mehndi arrives at the Amsterdam Arena stadium to attend the 2005 International Indian Film Academy Awards in Amsterdam, Netherlands. An Indian court has sentenced Mehndi to two years in prison after convicting him of charges of cheating and human trafficking. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

NEW DELHI — A popular Indian pop singer was convicted of human trafficking and cheating Friday by a court that found he took money to pretend people were in his performance troupe so they could get jobs in North America.

Daler Mehndi said he is innocent. The court in the northern city of Patiala sentenced him to two years in prison but freed him on bail while he challenges his conviction in an appeals court.

Prosecutors said Mehndi and his brother took "passage money" from Indians they offered to disguise as performers in his troupe. The jobseekers could then stay in the United States and Canada to find work.

The cheating conviction alleges the brothers took money from some Indians and never took them abroad. They filed police complaints in 2003.

Mehndi told reporters on Friday that his brother was the main accused in the case and he died last year.

The Press Trust of India reported that the Mehndi brothers took two dance troupes to the United States in 1998 and 1999 and allegedly dropped off 13 members illegally.

Mehndi shot into fame in the 1990s with Punjabi-language songs and energetic dancing and has lent his voice for Bollywood film songs.

He has a large fan following among Indian migrants in the United States, Canada and Britain.

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