16 Years a Slave: Wealthy Dallas immigrant couple convicted of forced, unpaid labor in human-trafficking trial
A federal jury on Thursday found a Southlake Texas couple guilty of forced labor, harboring an alien for financial gain and conspiracy in keeping an African girl as an unpaid domestic in their home for 16 years.
The couple, Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure, both 57, were taken into custody following the verdict, as their children looked on and appeared visibly shaken, according to KTVT-TV, CBS 11. Although a sentencing date has not been established, the couple face up to 20 years in prison on the forced labor charge, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“The defendants preyed on a young and extremely vulnerable girl,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement after the verdict. “Their despicable actions included cruelly abusing her, forcing her to work in their home, hidden in plain sight, for years without pay, and robbing her of her childhood.”
Djena Diallo of Guinea was brought to Texas 18 years ago as a child from a rural Guinea village, speaking no English and with no friends or relatives in the area. She cooked, cleaned, performed yard work, painted and served as a nanny to the couple’s five children.
In court, the couple’s lawyer portrayed the arrangement and Diallo’s treatment as being similar to that of the pair’s own children, however Diallo was not allowed to attend school or participate in other activities like the children, who were close to her in age.
During the trial, Diallo, who is now an adult, testified that she could on occasion come and go, but that the couple isolated her and emotionally and physically abused her, even confiscating her legal documents, which caused her to illegally overstay her visa once it expired, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Diallo, who was referred to as “Jenna” in the criminal complaint, grew up in a mud hut in a village in Guinea before going to work for Cros-Toure’s parents in a city. Then in January 2000, she was placed on a flight and sent to the United States.
According to the Star-Telegram, the servant told the jury that she was often called a “dog,” “slave,” “worthless” and an “idiot.”
In August 2016, Diallo escaped with the help of former neighbors.
Toure is the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, who served in that position for 26 years. Cros-Toure’s father was Guinea’s secretary of state.
The couple, both Guinea natives, were granted asylum in the United States in 2000, the same year Diallo was brought to the U.S., according to court documents say.
“I’m gratified that we were able to obtain a measure of justice for this young woman, who suffered for years at the hands of this couple — people who assumed they could deprive a little girl of her rightful freedoms with impunity,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a statement after the verdict. “I’m especially grateful to the witnesses who helped rescue this woman and brought the defendants’ crimes into the light of day. If we want to wipe out human trafficking, we need the whole community to support the effort and be alert.”