DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A federal jury has convicted a Washtenaw County man on charges he enslaved and abused four West African children in his home for several years.
The jury deliberated for less than a day in Detroit’s U.S. District Court before finding Ypsilanti resident Jean-Claude “Kodjo” Toviave guilty on four counts of forced labor. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced Feb. 6.
Court records show that Toviave, a native of Togo, West Africa, used force and threats to obtain the domestic labor of the minors from Togo from January 2006 to January 2011.
U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said Toviave, a former University of Michigan janitor and part-time tennis instructor, brought the four minors into the U.S. by giving them passports with false names and dates of birth. In immigration documents, Toviave represented that the four individuals were his biological children.
The four victims said the abuse spanned nearly five years in their Ypsilanti home, which Toviave got through Habitat for Humanity, records show.
The victims testified that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrappers and phone chargers if they failed to obey his orders to complete household chores. They said they were required to cook and clean, wash laundry by hand, iron Toviave’s suits, shine his shoes, wash and vacuum his car, babysit his friends’ children and clean a friend’s home.
In addition to force and threats of force, the victims said Toviave used food and sleep deprivation as punishment.
“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 in a release.
“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,” she said.
Toviave pleaded guilty in February to visa fraud, mail fraud and harboring aliens in connection with bringing the four minors to Michigan.
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