U.S. Couple Convicted of Smuggling, Exploiting Kenyan Woman

Fredrick Ngugi June 12, 2017
A couple in New Jersey has been convicted of smuggling a Kenyan woman and exploiting her for domestic labor. Photo credit: Ebru TV Kenya

A jury in New Jersey, United States, has convicted a couple of smuggling a Kenyan woman in to the country and exploiting her for domestic labor in their home.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the jury found Michael Wood and his wife, Mary, guilty of conspiring to harbor an undocumented alien for financial gain. Mary was also found guilty of fraudulently obtaining naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

The two are due to be sentenced on September 7th, with Mrs. Wood facing up to 20 years in jail while her husband could get up to 10 years.

Federal prosecutors told the court that the Kenyan woman — only identified in court documents as P.I.  was only paid $200 (KES20,600) a month for working 24 hours a day and seven days a week, which is against U.S. labor laws, according to U.S. News.

Apart from staying on call for 24 hours every day, P.I. was also expected to do laundry, clean the house, cook, and take care of the couple’s four children. This, the prosecution argued, should have earned her at least $5,200 (KES535,600) a month.

Attempted Cover-Up   

Evidence presented in court showed that the couple recruited the woman when they visited Kenya in August 2005. They initially brought her to Ghana to watch over their children and then smuggled her to the United States.

Mr. Wood reportedly gave the woman his adult daughter’s British passport and ordered her to memorize the information and pretend to be the daughter. Once in the United States, Mr. Wood represented the victim as his own daughter.

In an attempt to hide her from authorities, the couple kept P.I. locked in the house, only allowing her to walk the kids to a nearby school.

They also led her to believe that she would be arrested and deported if she ever spoke to anyone or left their residence without permission. A year later, they moved her to Mary’s sister and other family members, where they continued to exploit her for domestic labor.

Luckily, the woman managed to escape in 2011, leading to a federal investigation.

Cheap & Forced Labor

Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery very common in many parts of the United States, with many foreigners being coerced in to cheap labor.

Common forms of labor trafficking in the United States include people forced to work in homes as domestic workers, farmhands, and factory workers who are held in poor working conditions with little or no pay.

According to Chapter 77 of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1584, whoever holds or returns any person to a condition of servitude, or arrests any person with the intent of placing him in or returning him to a condition of servitude, shall be fined or imprisoned for not more than 20 years.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: September 15, 2018


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