A physician from Nigeria was acquitted yesterday of charges that she forced a young immigrant girl to work as an unpaid servant in her Montgomery County home. But a federal jury convicted her of conspiracy and harboring a juvenile alien for financial gain.
The verdicts, in U.S. District Court in Prince George's County, came in the month-long trial of Adaobi Stella Udeozor, 45, of Germantown. She was accused of abusing and virtually enslaving the girl, who was brought to the United States from Nigeria illegally in 1996 at age 14.
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The guilty verdicts prompted an angry outburst from Udeozor's 16-year-old son and a young woman supporter.
As the verdicts were read, the son stood and shouted expletives. "She didn't do anything! She didn't do anything!" the son hollered. A young woman stood up and screamed at the jury, "What the [expletive] is wrong with you people?"
Federal marshals quickly moved in and escorted the teenager, the young woman and other Udeozor relatives and supporters out of the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte ordered marshals to detain the teenager for 15 minutes, to allow him to calm down. Messitte scheduled Udeozor's sentencing for Feb. 4.
Yesterday's verdicts came a day after another jury in federal court in Greenbelt convicted a Silver Spring woman of forcing a young Cameroonian girl to work for her as an unpaid domestic servant for two years. Since 2000, federal prosecutors in Greenbelt have obtained at least half a dozen convictions in forced-labor cases.
According to law enforcement officials and advocacy groups, thousands of women are recruited every year from impoverished countries to be live-in workers in the United States. 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.
In Udeozor's case, authorities alleged, the girl was forced to work as a domestic servant without pay, was never enrolled in school, was beaten and verbally berated by Udeozor and was raped by Udeozor's ex-husband, George Chidebe Udeozor, according to court testimony.
George Udeozor, 48, is a fugitive in Nigeria. He is charged with the same offenses that his former wife faced, but he has not been charged with rape by federal authorities because the alleged sexual abuse did not occur on federal property.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Odessa Jackson countered defense arguments that Udeozor treated the victim with affection.
"You don't show affection by keeping [someone] out of school for five years. You don't show affection by beating them and telling them to 'stop acting goat' and 'stop acting bush,' " Jackson said.