News and Press Releases

Ypsilanti Resident Found Guilty on Charges of Forced Labor

October 30, 2012

An Ypsilanti man was found guilty by a federal jury today of four counts of forced labor, announced U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade. McQuade was joined in the announcement by Acting Special Agent in Charge William Hays, Homeland Security Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The jury deliberated for less than a day before returning the guilty verdicts, concluding a trial that began on October 22, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow.

Evidence introduced during the trial established that Jean-Claude "Kodjo" Toviave, a native of Togo, West Africa, used force, and threats of force, to obtain the domestic labor of four minors from Togo from January 2006 to January 2011. Toviave brought the four minors into the United States by giving them passports with false names and dates of birth. Defendant represented on these immigration documents that the four individuals were his biological children. Toviave pleaded guilty on February 24, 2012 to visa fraud, mail fraud and harboring aliens in connection with bringing the four minors to Michigan from Togo.

The four victims testified at trial that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrappers and phone chargers if they failed to obey Toviave’s orders to complete household labor. Each of the victims' testimony during trial detailed the work that they were forced to do on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, spanning nearly five years. This domestic work included all of the cooking and cleaning in the house, hand-washing laundry, ironing Toviave’s suits, shining his shoes, washing and vacuuming his car, baby-sitting the children of his friends and cleaning his friend's home. In addition to force and threats of force, Toviave used food and sleep deprivation as punishment for the minors.

"This conviction is a victory not only for the young victims in this particular case, but also for human dignity and the rule of law," said William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. "HSI is fully committed to working with our law enforcement partners, both local and international, to combat the crime of human trafficking. Sadly, this crime occurs every day in America. We encourage anyone who suspects that human trafficking or forced labor is occurring in their community to report it to authorities immediately."

“Many people are shocked to learn that slavery and human trafficking still exist in this country, but the victims are often hiding in plain sight,” McQuade said. “We are working with victim advocates and law enforcement agencies to expose these crimes. This conviction and the liberation of these victims occurred because of the diligence of school teachers, advocates, investigators and prosecutors.”

Toviave's sentencing is scheduled for February 6, 2013 at 3:00pm where he faces a statutory maximum penalty of twenty years in prison.

The case was investigated by special agents from the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case was prosecuted by the Detroit branch of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

















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