Norman inn's owners deny keeping woman as indentured servant
NORMAN — The owners of Whispering Pines Inn say allegations they kept a Cambodian woman as an indentured servant are false and subsequent media reports have hurt their small family business.
The woman, who the family called “Srey” meaning “pretty girl” in Khmer, is in FBI custody, said Rany Kchao, who owns Whispering Pines Inn with his wife, Thavory Kchao.
“From what the FBI says, she is also telling the truth, and that eases my pain quite a lot,” he said. “I wish her the best of luck.”
FBI Special Agent Terry Weber said he could not provide information on the location of the Cambodian woman on Wednesday, and said the investigation was still ongoing.
One customer called Wednesday afternoon to ask about a refund on a deposit after canceling a wedding at the bed-and-breakfast. Rany Kchao said he also has received at least one death threat.
The Cambodian woman, a worker at Whispering Pines Inn, 7820 E State Highway 9, allegedly was subjected to mental abuse from her employer and forced to give a child up for adoption after she became pregnant while working at the bed-and-breakfast, according to an application for a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Another former worker at Whispering Pines reported the matter to authorities after she never saw Srey receive wages for her work at the inn, according to an affidavit filed with the search warrant.
FBI agents raided the bed-and-breakfast last week in search of evidence of human trafficking in connection with the case.
- Related to this story
- Article: Norman inn being investigated after report of Cambodian woman held as indentured servant
- Video: Whispering Pines owner speaks out. (2016-06-15)
The Kchaos say they sponsored the woman's immigration to the United States as a favor to a family friend. After the college-age woman arrived in the United States, it quickly became apparent that she was pregnant, Thavory Kchao said.
After the woman gave birth to a baby girl in 2015, the Kchaos did not force the woman to give the child up for adoption, as alleged in an FBI affidavit, Thavory Kchao said.
“It was her own decision,” she said.
Thavory Kchao said she treated the woman as she would a member of her own family.
“I bought clothes for her, spending money out of my own pocket. I wanted her to have the feeling that she was welcome, she wasn't alone even though she was away from her family,” she said.
Thavory Kchao said she bought the woman clothing, cooked for her when she was pregnant and helped her learn to read and write English.
Thavory Kchao also provided The Oklahoman with a photocopy of a handwritten Christmas card she said was from the woman, written partially in English, partially in Khmer.
“I'm very happy when I live with your family. ... God bless your family forever,” the card says in English.
Rany Kchao showed The Oklahoman a comfortable bedroom in the Kchao's private residence on the Whispering Pines grounds that he said the woman shared with a family member. The tidy room has two full-size beds and a private bathroom with a Jacuzzi bathtub.
“She will never come back here ever again, but I still love her. I respect her as a human being,” Rany Kchao said.
The Kchaos say they loaned the woman's family $8,000 to help pay off a high-interest loan for her family in Cambodia.
Rany Kchao said he paid the woman fair wages and even helped her set up a bank account. The woman never cashed some of her paychecks because she had few expenses living with the Kchaos, Rany Kchao said.
“She's a very good girl. She always either signed her check over to me, or got some cash to pay my wife. She paid off the loan last month,” Rany Kchao said.
Rany and Thavory met in a Cambodian refugee camp and immigrated to the United States in 1982.
The Kchaos say they worked hard for decades to realize the American dream of owning their own business, a dream they fear is now in jeopardy after media reports that Whispering Pines is under investigation.
In 1999, they opened Whispering Pines on 20 acres of wooded land off SH 9. The bed-and-breakfast also features a restaurant and hosts weddings.
“As long as you try for it, there's a whole lot of opportunity here. This is the best place to live on Earth,” Rany Kchao said. “I only ask for all the truth to come out before they make a judgment on my family.”
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›