DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A former University of Michigan janitor has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, convicted of forcing children to work as slaves at his Ypsilanti home.
Jean-Claude Toviave, a native of Togo, West Africa, didn’t apologize when provided the opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing in Detroit.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow to sentence Toviave to the maximum sentence within the guidelines, and he did, handling down a 135-month sentence, with credit for about two years of time served.
He also was ordered to pay two of the children $60,000 each.
“I can’t get a read on you,” Tarnow told Toviave. “I can’t tell if you understand what you did was really wrong.”
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says, in 2006, Toviave brought four minor children into the country from Togo with fake names and fraudulent papers — passing them off as his own kids.
The victims told jurors that they were forced to vacuum, iron, cook, clean and shine shoes for nearly five years until January 2011.
The victims said Toviave beat them with toilet plungers, broomsticks and electrical cords and deprived them of food and sleep if they didn’t follow orders.
Two of the victims were in the courtroom during sentencing, but declined to speak.
Victim statements were entered into the record, however, and one was read aloud by a representative.
“The physical torture, beating me and starving me, you inflicted was so painful that I prayed at night that God would either help me to be free or allow your assaults to kill me,” wrote the unnamed victim. “The pain is something I will never forget. In the midst of your verbal and physical assaults, you worked the four of us to death.”
A jury convicted Toviave of four counts of forced labor in October. He previously pleaded guilty to fraud and misuse of visas, mail fraud and harboring aliens.
In a court filing, defense attorney Randall Roberts described Toviave’s situation as a “family experiment [that] went horribly off the rails.” He’d asked Tarnow to sentence his client to four years and said the judge’s sentence “was as tough as it comes.”
Talking to WWJ’s Charlie Langton, FBI spokesman Simon Shaykhet aid they take the crime of human trafficking very seriously.
“We’re working to rescue young people brought into this lifestyle through predatory activities. We’re looking to reunite them with their families and we’re looking to get them out of dangerous situations where they are being exploited on a daily basis,” said Shaykhet.
Along with his job at U-M, Toviave also worked part-time as a tennis instructor at the Huron Valley Tennis Club. He was arrested when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided his home in May 2011.
McQuade says people need to realize that slave labor remains a real issue in American today.
“We find victims of human trafficking are often hiding in plain sight. And, so, raising awareness can help people identity this problem when it exists,” said McQuade. “The children in this case were rescued because of alert school teachers who recognized that something was wrong.”
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