Federal authorities are hunting for a Silver Spring woman who fled shortly after being convicted in federal court in the fall of enslaving a Cameroonian girl.
Theresa Mubang, 42, was sentenced in absentia Monday to 17 years and six months in prison by Judge Deborah K. Chasanow of the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
In November, after a 2 1/2-week trial, a federal jury deliberated for just two hours before convicting Mubang of involuntary servitude and harboring a juvenile for financial gain.
Mubang's disappearance was discovered in mid-December, said Eric Holland, a spokesman for the Justice Department. After Mubang was convicted, Chasanow ordered her to be monitored electronically.
Mubang took off an electronic ankle bracelet, which officials found when they discovered she had fled, Holland said.
Mubang's attorney, Peter Goldman, declined to comment.
Mubang was convicted of forcing the Cameroonian girl, Evelyn Chumbow, to work for her as a domestic servant for two years in the late 1990s, beginning when the girl was 11.
According to trial testimony and federal prosecutors, Mubang beat Chumbow, now 18, with a high-heeled shoe, a metal broom handle, a cable and her fist.
Mubang brought Chumbow into the United States through London in November 1996 using a false passport, federal prosecutors said.
The servitude conviction was not the first time Mubang, a native of Cameroon who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been found to have broken the law.
Mubang ran a company that provided transportation to Medicaid recipients. In 2002, she was convicted in Virginia of fraudulently billing the state's Medicaid program for $1.4. million, officials said. Mubang was sentenced to three years and one month in prison, was ordered to repay the Virginia Medicaid program $1.4 million and was fined $375,000, authorities said.
Officials with a Silver Spring-based immigrant rights organization said that people convicted of enslavement often pose a flight risk, particularly if, like Mubang, they are from another country and have a lot of money.
"Traffickers who show no respect for human rights likewise are contemptuous of the U.S. justice system," said Steve Smitson, director of legal services at CASA of Maryland. The organization in recent years has rescued a number of victims of domestic slavery.
"Fleeing whether before or after trial further evidences their refusal to take responsibility for their crimes. As a member of a privileged class, this defendant's latest actions demonstrate her disrespect for human rights."
Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, said he is "confident that federal authorities will take all the steps necessary to protect the jury's decision."
Chumbow was not the first Cameroonian girl whom Mubang abused and forced into servitude, federal prosecutors said. In January 1995, Mubang arranged for a 10-year-old girl to come to the United States using a passport issued to another person, according to court papers filed by federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors alleged in court documents that Mubang abused that girl also, forcing her to cook, clean and care for Mubang's young son without pay. Mubang has not been charged in connection with her alleged mistreatment of that girl.
Thousands of women are recruited every year from impoverished countries to be live-in domestic workers in the United States, according to law enforcement officials and advocacy groups. Last October, a report by the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley and the Washington-based group Free the Slaves said at least 10,000 people are working as forced laborers at any given time in the United States.