ATLANTA- Bidemi Bello, 42, formerly of Suwanee, Ga., was sentenced today in Atlanta by U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. on human trafficking charges including forced labor, trafficking with respect to forced labor, document servitude, harboring for financial gain and procurement of naturalization unlawfully, the Department of Justice announced today. Bello was sentenced to 140 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised. Bello was also ordered to be deported from the United States upon completion of her federal sentence. Bello was convicted of these charges on June 10, 2011, after a trial.
“Holding other human beings against their will in servitude is a violation of human rights that will not be tolerated in our free society,” stated Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are committed to combating human trafficking in all its forms, vindicating the rights of trafficking victims and bringing human traffickers to justice.”
“This case is nothing short of shocking,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates. “Bello enslaved two young women through physical abuse, false promises, and threats of jail made to them and their families. Our office is working aggressively to root out human trafficking and to hold these criminals accountable.”
Brian D. Lamkin, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, said, “This defendant lacked any compassion for her victims in that the defendant in this matter, being an immigrant to the U.S. herself, knew that her victims were particularly vulnerable to exploitation. The FBI is proud of the role that it played in bringing this matter to justice and urges anyone with information regarding Human Trafficking activity to contact its nearest FBI Field Office.”
“This sentencing closes the door on a shocking case of modern day slavery,” said Brock Nicholson, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) in Atlanta. “Human trafficking deprives victims of their freedom and dignity and it has no place in our world. Cases like this one serve to strengthen our resolve to protect and defend those who may not be able to evade or escape the grip of human trafficking.”
The facts presented at trial showed that on two separate occasions, Bello returned to her home country of Nigeria and recruited two young women to return with her to the United States to work as her nanny and maid. The first victim, identified in court as “Laome,” traveled with Bello in October 2001 when she was 17-years-old, using a fraudulent British passport the defendant had obtained for her. The second victim, identified in court as “Dupe,” traveled with an associate of Bello’s to the United States in November 2004 when she was 20, also using a fraudulent British passport. Each victim testified that she never held her own travel documentation and did not know how the passports had been obtained.
Bello had promised the young women and their families that she would send them to school in the United States. She also promised to pay a salary to one of the young women in exchange for her services. Those promises were not kept. Instead, Bello physically and emotionally abused both young women, controlled their access to the outside world, and routinely treated them inhumanely. Testimony at trial from the victims described the degrading treatment they received at the hands of Bello. If Bello decided the house was not clean enough, she beat them; if Bello decided the victims did not respond fast enough to her crying child, she beat them; if Bello felt that they had been disrespectful, she beat them. Bello used a large wooden spoon, shoes, electric cords and her hands to inflict this physical abuse. One young woman took pictures of her injuries with a disposable camera and the pictures of her cut and bloodied lip were admitted as evidence during Bello’s trial.
The evidence showed that while Bello’s upscale home had multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, she made the young women sleep on the floor or a couch, would not let them use the shower, and did not allow the them to eat the food they cooked, but were instead forced to eat food that had spoiled and was moldy. Laome testified that she often threw up from the food Bello made her eat, and that on at least one occasion, Bello made her eat that vomit.
The evidence also showed that the victims were sleep deprived, and forced to be on call for Bello’s child all night. The women were given ceaseless tasks and forced to use primitive methods for washing and cutting grass because Bello would not let the young women use modern appliances such as the washing machine, dishwasher or the lawn mower.
Several witnesses corroborated the victims’ stories and evidence showed that Bello also hid her crime from a Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services investigator who came to her home upon hearing allegations of child abuse. Further, Bello never sent the young women to school as she had promised and never gave them any money for their years of work. The young women were totally dependent on Bello for all their basic necessities and she isolated them from others.
The women finally escaped with assistance from community members who were friends of Bello. The first victim, Laome, escaped from Bello, by hiding in the back of a woman’s car, who covered her with blankets and drove her away while Bello attended a party. The second victim, Dupe escaped by saving up $60, that was given to her by friends of Bello, and calling a cab. She was assisted by pastors at a church in Marietta after taking the cab to the church.
Bello became a U.S. citizen while she committed the crime of human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking, on the other hand, are protected by U.S. laws from such abuse, regardless of where they come from or how they come to be in the United States. Upon being identified as victims of human trafficking, both Laome and Dupe were given T-visas provided by the U.S. government and allowed to remain in the United States to assist in the prosecution of Bello. Anyone who knows of a potential victim of human trafficking should report these offenses to the FBI at 404-679-9000 or at 1-888-373-7888 or to ICE-HSI at 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) or online at www.ice.gov .
This case was investigated by Special Agents of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and special agents with the U.S. State Department, Diplomatic Security Services.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge from the Northern District of Georgia and Civil Rights Division Criminal Section Deputy Chief Karima Maloney prosecuted the case.