A North Texas couple is accused of bringing a young West African girl to their Southlake home and forcing her to work as a domestic slave for more than a decade without pay, according to federal prosecutors.
Mohamed Toure and his wife Denise Florence Cros-Toure, both 57, appeared in federal court Thursday in Fort Worth on charges of forced labor.
According to court documents, the couple arranged for the girl to travel from Guinea to the U.S. by herself in January 2000. Prosecutors say her passport showed that she was just 5-years-old.
Prosecutors allege she was forced to do chores like cleaning, cooking, painting, laundry and yard work, as well as care for the couple's five children for more than 16 years, all without pay.
The girl was not allowed to attend school and her passport was taken from her, keeping her in the U.S. unlawfully after her visa expired, according to an affidavit.
The complaint also alleges that the couple beat the girl with a belt or electrical cord if she did not perform her duties.
She managed to escape the home in August 2016 with the help of former neighbors.
Toure and Cros-Toure, also from Guinea, each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Mohamed Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, who was elected in 1958 and held that office until his death in 1984.
Cros-Toure's attorney, Scott Palmer, denied the allegations, starting with the girl's age. He said that she doesn't have a birth certificate but from what they've pieced together, she would have been between 11 and 13 when she first arrived.
"It actually doesn't make any sense," Palmer said. "You're gonna send a 5-year-old to America to take care of an 8- and 9-year-old and a 5-year-old and 2-year-old?"
Palmer told the Associated Press Thursday that the girl, whose name has not been released, was a distant relative sent by her father from Guinea as a child to be raised alongside the couple's three children.
On Friday, Palmer told NBC5 that the girl may have been brought over as a ward, a common practice in Africa for a poor family to send a child to live with a wealthy one. Either way, he said she was treated like a member of the family.
"She had chores, but all the children had chores. She loved gardening. She wasn't considered a housekeeper," Palmer said.
Palmer confirmed the girl was not allowed to attend school but said it was because she had overstayed her visa and the family feared that she would be deported.
Palmer said the girl may have made up the allegations to gain protected status as a crime victim, which would allow her to stay in the U.S. permanently.
"She was provided food, clothing, a bed, spending money, a house to live in. Our clients purchased Christmas gifts for her," Palmer said, adding that the Toures hadn't seen her since she left their Southlake home in 2016, seeking help from other relatives in Houston.
The girl told investigators that prior to arriving in Texas in 2000, she had lived with her family in a one-room mud hut with a thatched roof and no electricity. Her father was a farmer and her mother sold produce to support her family, the affidavit read. Palmer said that her father wanted her to come to America for a better life.
A detention hearing is set for Monday morning, when defense attorneys hope the couple will be released from federal custody.