CRIME

Montgomery Woman Gets 7 Years in Domestic Slavery Case

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By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

She'd been taken from her family in Nigeria as an adolescent and brought under false pretenses to the United States, where, according to evidence presented in federal court, she was raped by the man who claimed he was adopting her and abused by the man's wife.

Yesterday, the young woman, now 23, sat in the witness chair in federal court in Greenbelt, 10 feet from Adaobi Stella Udeozor, the woman who, prosecutors say, beat her and kept her in involuntary servitude. Calmly, the young woman said, "I want to make Stella pay the price for what she did to me."

Minutes later, Udeozor, who was convicted by a federal jury of conspiracy and harboring a juvenile alien for financial gain, told U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte that she'd done nothing wrong.

"You're sending an innocent person to prison," said Udeozor, a physician who lives in Darnestown.

Messitte was unmoved. He noted that a jury had convicted her after a six-week trial, then he sentenced Udeozor, 46, to seven years and three months in federal prison. He ordered her to pay restitution of $110,249 to her victim for her labor.

The judge told Udeozor that although she and other defendants charged in domestic slavery cases may come from cultures that allow the sort of behavior for which she was convicted, that was no excuse.

"You cannot do these things," Messitte said. "It isn't what goes in this country."

But such mistreatment is common, according to law enforcement officials and advocacy groups who say thousands of women from impoverished countries are recruited every year to be live-in workers in the United States, only to be abused.

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.

Since 2000, federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt have obtained at least a half-dozen convictions in forced labor cases.

Udeozor was convicted in November 2004. The jury made a special finding that the victim was held in involuntary servitude for more than one year. Udeozor was acquitted of forcing the victim to work as an unpaid servant.

The sentencing was delayed for more than a year because of a defense motion seeking a new trial. Messitte denied the motion Monday.

During the trial, the victim testified that in her native Nigeria in 1996, she overheard George Chidebe Udeozor -- who at the time was married to Adaobi Stella -- tell her father that she could attend school in the United States if he brought her to his home. George Udeozor brought her to the United States using a passport that belonged to his oldest daughter, according to evidence presented by federal prosecutors.

The Washington Post does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent.

The victim testified that, after she arrived in Darnestown in October 1996, when she was 14, she was put to work caring for Udeozor's five children and had to care for a sixth child who was born a year later. She testified that she was never paid, that Adaobi Stella Udeozor beat her and that she was never enrolled in school.

Yesterday, during her victim impact statement, she said she has obtained her general equivalency diploma, is studying criminal justice and hopes to combat the abuse she endured.

Udeozor will be deported when she finishes her sentence, Messitte said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mythili Raman said Udeozor has admitted entering into a sham marriage with another man to obtain citizenship. She and George Udeozor are divorced.

In 2001, the clinic owned by Adaobi Stella Udeozor pleaded guilty to allowing the practice of unlicensed medicine.

George Udeozor has been arrested in Nigeria and is awaiting extradition. He is charged with the same offenses as those with which his ex-wife was charged.


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