Man Sentenced to 8 Years for Abuse of Teen Servant From Nigeria

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Nigerian-born businessman convicted of smuggling a 14-year-old girl into the United States and forcing her to work as an unpaid servant at his home in Germantown was sentenced yesterday to more than eight years in prison.

George Udeozor, who was extradited from Nigeria in February after almost four years as a fugitive, pleaded guilty in July to holding the victim in involuntary servitude. He admitted having sex with the girl, abuse that prosecutors said began when she was 15.

But yesterday, with his family and friends present at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Udeozor all but accused the victim of lying, even as he admitted mistakes.

When it was his turn to speak, Udeozor, 52, launched into a rambling recounting of his life. He mentioned his mother, who was the victim's godmother. He said that his mother had encouraged him to bring the girl to the United States and that his intentions in doing so were honorable. And he spoke of his children, who he said need him more than ever now that their mother -- also convicted in the case -- is behind bars.

At times, Udeozor seemed to both apologize and cast doubt on the victim's allegations.

"She did suffer some treatment that was not right, for which I am eternally sorry," he said. Then, moments later, he said, "It is difficult for me to say I'm sorry when [the victim] is not here and she has added on things that are false."

The prosecution of the Udeozors renewed attention to the smuggling of girls and women to work as live-in domestic help in the United States, where they are often unpaid or otherwise mistreated. Law enforcement officials estimate that thousands are recruited every year from impoverished countries to do domestic work.

Washington and New York are major centers for the practice, in part because both are home to diplomatic missions, whose officials can bring in domestic servants on special visas, and to large immigrant populations.

The victim was not in court yesterday, but she testified during the 2004 trial of Udeozor's former wife, Adaobi Stella Udeozor. Then 23, she testified that she looked after six children but was never paid and was not enrolled in school. She said Adaobi Udeozor beat her. Adaobi Udeozor was sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Under the law, the victim was not required to appear at yesterday's sentencing, though George Udeozor, a U.S. citizen since 1996, said he thought that she should have been there. "I took a plea," he said. "It seems now I've done the wrong thing. How does one in my position defend himself?"

Federal guidelines recommended a sentence of 6 1/2 to eight years. Prosecutors Mythili Raman and Kathleen Monaghan asked for a sentence toward the high end of that range; defense attorney Michael T. Citaramanis asked for a sentence on the low end.

Judge Peter J. Messitte, who presided over the trial of Adaobi Udeozor, said the maximum penalty under the guidelines -- 97 months, or just over eight years -- was appropriate.

Federal officials said the case demonstrates that such abuses will be prosecuted aggressively. "Forcing a helpless and innocent girl into a life of servitude while inflicting physical violence is simply intolerable," James A. Dinkins, special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement. "ICE is committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves."

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