Texas couple sentenced for enslaving a girl for more than 16 years

A Texas couple has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison each for enslaving a girl for more than 16 years until she escaped with the help of neighbors, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

Mohamed Touré and Denise Cros-Touré, who are citizens of Guinea and lawful permanent residents of the U.S., were also ordered to pay their victim $288,620.24 in restitution in the forced labor conviction, the release says.

Prosecutors say the couple — members of “wealthy and powerful Guinean families” — arranged for the victim to travel to Texas from rural Guinea in early 2000. Starting as a young girl, the couple forced the victim “to cook, clean, and take care of their biological children, some of whom were close in age to the victim, without pay for the next 16 years.”

The couple kept the victim from receiving an education and punished her physically and emotionally, prosecutors say. She was called a “dog,” “slave” and “worthless” by the couple.

Trial evidence showed the victim was at least 5 years old but perhaps as old as 13 when she came to America.

“Forced labor trafficking cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute – in part because victims are often afraid to speak out,” the release quotes U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. “It took tremendous courage for this young woman to share her story at trial.”

A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, sentenced Touré and Cros-Touré each to two seven-year terms and one five-year term, all to be served concurrently.

Toure and Cros-Toure, both 57, were charged with forced labor, harboring an alien for financial gain, conspiracy to commit forced labor and conspiracy to harbor an alien for financial gain.

During a January trial, defense lawyers presented the victim as someone who was treated as a member of the family and who benefited from a better life in America.

They hung over the testimony this week of a young African woman who told a federal jury that she was forced to clean, cook and serve as a nanny for a wealthy Southlake couple without pay for more than 15 years.

But Djena Diallo also told jurors during about five hours on the witness stand during Mohamed Toure and Denise Florence Cros-Toure’s trial in Fort Worth that she could on occasion come and go from the Toure home.

Toure and Cros-Toure are accused of forced labor for bringing Diallo to their Southlake home and benefiting from her unpaid domestic work.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys hammered away at the alleged victim’s testimony, getting her to admit she had numerous opportunities to seek help while she was outside the Toure family home.

Couldn’t Diallo just “walk right out the door?” Rebekah C. Perlstein, an attorney for Cros-Toure, asked.

Yes, she could.

So why didn’t she?

“I had no family member,” Diallo said.

But she knew people who would be willing to help her, right? Perlstein asked. Yes, she did.

Civil rights attorneys from the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., said her reticence was due to fear and a power imbalance. It’s a story, they say, of a wealthy and influential African family who brought Diallo, a rural village girl, to the U.S. for domestic work and subjected her to threats, beatings and other mistreatment.

Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, who served in that role for 26 years. Cros-Toure’s father was the nation’s secretary of state.

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