A U.S. federal court has convicted the son of a former Guinean president, along with his wife, for enslaving a young, undocumented girl from the West African country and forcing her to work unpaid in their north Texas home for 16 years.
Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure, both 57, were convicted of forced labor, harboring an alien and conspiring to harbor an alien. The couple, who live in the Dallas suburb of Southlake, were acquitted of another charge, conspiracy to commit forced labor.
"The defendants preyed on a young and extremely vulnerable girl. Their despicable actions included cruelly abusing her, forcing her to work in their home, hidden in plain sight, for years without pay, and robbing her of her childhood," Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney in the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a statement Friday announcing the verdict.
Sentencing has not yet been scheduled for Toure and Cros-Toure. They face up to 20 years in prison, according to the statement, which also said restitution was mandatory.
Toure and Cros-Toure were taken into custody by U.S. Marshals after the verdict was announced Thursday evening, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper. The couple had been on home arrest since shortly after their arrest last April.
Attorneys for Toure and Cros-Toure said they would appeal the convictions.
"A family has been destroyed," said Toure's lawyer, Brady T. Wyatt III of Dallas, according to the Star-Telegram. "The government told a story and we contradicted it."
Djena Diallo, the young woman at the center of the case, was present during the four-day trial but did not testify.
Federal court documents indicate the victim came from a village in Guinea and was brought to the United States as a child, perhaps as young as 5. Her age is unclear. Toure and Cros-Tore "required her to cook, clean and take care of their [five] biological children," the court statement said, "… without pay for the next 16 years."
Diallo also was seen painting the house, mowing the lawn and tending gardens, neighbors said. She was not permitted to attend school, and she was beaten with belts and electrical cords and choked, she told authorities.
Call for help
The girl escaped in August 2016 with the aid of a former neighbor she'd telephoned for help.
Bridget Abujo, the ex-neighbor and prosecution witness, testified that she had sent her daughter to pick up Diallo and bring her to safety, first at the Abujos' home and then a YWCA, The Dallas Morning News reported.
According to The News account, Abujo said in court that she had arranged for tutoring for Diallo. She also said Diallo's immigration status was in "limbo." VOA could not reach federal officials to confirm.
Toure is the son of the late Ahmed Sekou Toure, the first president of Guinea after the country gained independence from France in 1958. He held office until suffering a fatal heart attack in 1984.
Toure and Cros-Toure have been permanent U.S. residents since 2005, the Star-Telegram reported, citing court documents. It said that, according to Texas Workforce Commission records, Toure has never been employed in the United States but worked for a government party in Guinea. His wife worked for Delta Air Lines from 2005 to 2006 and as a substitute teacher starting in 2016.
Jurors decided the Toures' property should be forfeited. The Dallas Morning News reported that would include the family's house, appraised last year at $584,000.
Scott H. Palmer, a defense attorney for Cros-Toure, told The News that a juror called him the day after the verdict to say that jurors were reluctant to convict the couple because Diallo had been free to leave the house and was active on social media. They probably would have acquitted the couple had they enrolled the girl in school, Palmer said the juror explained.
But Ann Johnson, a former Texas state prosecutor and expert in human trafficking, told The News that just because there were no signs of physical confinement didn't mean there wasn't mental or emotional bondage.
"And that's why a lot of people may not even see themselves as a trafficking victim," Johnson was quoted as saying. "A big part of it is the manipulation. ... These are very tough cases to make."
VOA's French to Africa Service contributed to this report.