When she arrived in the US, the West African girl was just five years old, but she soon was responsible for caring for a Texas couple’s children, cooking, cleaning and mowing the lawn. She was abused and neglected for 16 years — until she escaped, according to a criminal complaint against the couple.
The pair has now been sentenced to seven years each in prison and nearly $300,000 in restitution, according to a Monday news release from the Justice Department.
Mohamed Toure, 58, and Denise Cros-Toure, 58, were convicted in January of forced labor, conspiracy to harbor an alien and alien harboring.
— CNN (@CNN) April 23, 2019
They both are citizens of Guinea — where the young girl was taken from — and lawful permanent residents of the US, but may lose their US immigration status and be deported to Guinea, the Justice Department said.
“I hope that today’s sentence brings some measure of justice and healing to the victim, who suffered untold trauma as a result of the defendants’ heinous crimes,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a news release. “The defendants stole her childhood and her labor for years, enriching themselves while leaving her with pain and an uncertain future.”
The couple had faced a maximum sentence of 20 years for forced labor, 10 years for conspiracy to commit alien harboring, and 5 years for alien harboring.
An attorney for Toure said the couple was pleased with the lighter sentence, but maintain that the girl’s story was fabricated.
Investigators claim the young girl initially lived in a one-room, mud hut with her family in Guinea. She was still young when her father, who worked as a farmer, urged her to go into the city to work. She soon began working for Cros-Toure’s family in Guinea, according to the complaint.
In January 2000, the young girl — who was not named in the criminal complaint — was flown to the Toure residence in Southlake, where her first job was to care for the couple’s youngest son, who was about two years old at the time, the 2018 complaint says. She did not speak English when she arrived and was not enrolled in school.
Girl alleges years of abuse
The child’s workload eventually increased to include cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, mowing the lawn and gardening. Her day began around 7 a.m., when the couple’s children left for school and continued until they went to sleep at night, the complaint says.
She didn’t eat with the couple and their five children and slept on the floor, investigators said. The couple kept her at home, isolated her, forced her to do housework and care for their children with no pay and made sure she was entirely dependent on them, according to the criminal complaint.
Scott Palmer, Cros-Toure’s attorney, says the couple didn’t pay the girl for her work because she was like family.
“They didn’t pay her, but you don’t pay family members to clean your own house,” he said. “She lived there, like anyone else did.” He said that the couple wanted to adopt the girl.
But the Department of Justice says the couple “physically, emotionally and verbally punished her,” each time she disobeyed them or “did not perform the required labor to their liking.”
They would call her a “dog,” a “slave,” “worthless” and an idiot, the Justice Department said in Monday’s news release, citing evidence presented at the couple’s trial. They choked her, whipped her, sometimes pulled on her hair — and other times shaved it, the Justice Department said.
Toure’s attorney, Brady T. Watt III said those stories were fabricated in the girl’s attempt to stay in the US. Watt told CNN, the girl made the claims after her family asked that she be returned to Guinea.
“We know why this came about because this was her route to get a T-Visa,” Watt said. “She wasn’t a slave. She was charting runs on her Fitbit, doing modeling shoots.”
She escaped after 16 years
By the summer of 2016, the girl had confided to people who knew Cros-Toure and Toure about the abuse and had tried to run away, but she was always returned home, according to the criminal complaint.
In August of that year, with the help of a few former neighbors, she waited until Cros-Toure was gone from the house, and fled, taking with her a duffel bag, a backpack and her travel documents.
“Forced labor trafficking cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute — in part because victims are often afraid to speak out,” US Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a news release. “I want to commend her, as well as the witnesses who helped shine a light on her circumstances.”
“If we want to wipe out human trafficking, we need to remind witnesses to speak up, and ask the community to remain alert.”
The sentencing should send a message to those who abuse and exploit others, Jeffrey McGallicher, Special Agent in Charge of the DSS Houston Field Office said.
“You will be held responsible for your vicious acts,” McGallicher said.