Fla. Women Convicted of Enslaving Teen
Associated Press Writer
A mother and her adult daughter were convicted Tuesday of keeping a Haitian teen as a slave for six years in their South Florida home, with a jury rejecting their claims that the girl feigned abuse so she could remain in the U.S.
Evelyn Theodore, 74, and Maude Paulin, 52, were convicted of conspiring to violate Simone Celestin's 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery and forcing her to work for them.
Paulin, a Miami-Dade County teacher, also was convicted of harboring an illegal alien for financial gain.
Theodore and Paulin's ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, were both acquitted of that count but convicted of a lesser charge of harboring an illegal alien. Claire Telasco, Paulin's sister, was acquitted of conspiracy and forced labor charges.
Prosecutors alleged that Celestin was stolen at age 5 from her mother and grandmother in a mountain village and forced to pretend she was an orphan at the orphanage Theodore ran with her late husband in Ranquitte, Haiti.
At age 14, the girl was taken to the U.S. on a 29-day visa. Prosecutors alleged that for the next six years, Celestin's life consisted of 15-hour work days as an unpaid servant, with no schooling. She escaped in 2005.
Celestin, now 22, testified Wednesday that she considered suicide after years of beatings and intimidation. She tearfully described sleeping on the floor, rummaging through cast-off clothes in the garage for something to wear, bathing from a bucket or a garden hose and scrubbing floors when she should have been in school.
She said Theodore and Maude Paulin often struck her with their hands, shoes or objects such as a curling iron or a mortar if she didn't finish the work to their satisfaction.
The defendants denied mistreating Celestin. Defense attorneys argued during trial that her allegations of abuse were motivated by her desire to be a permanent legal resident of the U.S.
Attorneys for Maude Paulin and Theodore said each faces seven to 10 years in prison and said they would appeal.
Richard Dansoh, attorney for Maude Paulin, said the jury gave contradictory verdicts regarding his client. The jurors convicted her of all three charges against her but did not find that her home or other property were used to facilitate a crime. The government had sought the forfeiture of that property.
Joel DeFabio, attorney for Telasco, called the verdict sad: "Without allowing the defense to get into the cultural conditions in Haiti or the fact that Simone has a life here in the U.S. because of the Paulins, was unfair to the defense and prevented the jury from seeing the whole picture."
But Jan Smith, an attorney for Saintfort Paulin, said the verdict was fair.
"This is what we asked the jury for," he said.
The Paulins' daughter Erica tearfully declined to comment.
Telasco, her aunt, said: "Injustice. Innocent people going to jail for no reason."
In court documents, prosecutors identified Celestin as a "restavek." The term is a Haitian Creole word meaning "one who stays with" and applies to poor children who work for wealthier families in exchange for food, shelter and the promise of school. Many end up victims of physical and sexual abuse.
UNICEF estimates 300,000 children in Haiti are restaveks. It is unknown how many restaveks are among the estimated 14,500 to 17,500 involuntary servants estimated to be trafficked into the U.S. each year.
Sentencing for the Paulins and Theodore is set for May. All have been released on bond.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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