She told special agents with the U.S. Department of State that she had a vivid memory of the nice flight attendant who gave her cookies and a toy on the long overseas plane ride, which she took by herself. She arrived at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to meet the Toure family, who had arranged for her travel with their relatives in Guinea, investigators say.
The Toures brought her to their home in Southlake, Tex. Then, for the next 16 years, prosecutors say, Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure made her the family’s domestic slave.
Toure and Cros-Toure were arrested on federal charges of forced labor of a minor on Wednesday, according to a 13-page complaint filed by U.S. prosecutors in the Northern District of Texas. They are accused of forcing the girl to do all the household chores, the cooking and the laundry, the gardening and lawn-mowing and the house-painting and to care for their other five children — all without pay and sometimes with physical punishment for unsatisfactory work. They are accused of confiscating the girl’s travel documents so that she could not return to Guinea, and withholding an education from her while their children flourished at school and went on to college.
The abuse continued until she escaped in 2016 with the help of former neighbors, the complaint says.
An attorney for the couple denied all of the allegations, saying that the young woman, who is not identified in court documents, was treated like a daughter and included in all the family holidays and events.
“The complaint is riddled with salacious allegations, fabrications, and lies,” her attorney, Scott Palmer, told The Washington Post in an email. “We look forward to amassing a mountain of evidence to refute the government’s portrayal of our clients and look forward to revealing the motivation of this woman to lie, betray, and attempt to destroy the family that took her in at the request of her father for a better life in the United States.”
The Toure family has deep ties to the Republic of Guinea. Toure happens to be the son of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sékou Toure, who held that office from 1958 until his death in 1984. (Palmer confirmed this to The Post.) It did not appear to State Department investigators that Toure or his wife held much steady work after they arrived in the United States. Instead, they relied mostly on “significant overseas deposits” as income, according to the complaint.
The girl told investigators she was born in Guinea and lived with her family in a one-room mud hut with a thatched roof and no electricity. One day when she was young, her father asked if she would like to go work in the city, and then brought her to live with Cros-Toure’s mother, she told the State Department. Her job was to care for the woman’s blind daughter.
A couple years later the family shipped her to Texas. She took up child-care duties for Cros-Toure upon arrival, along with the rest of the household duties, the complaint alleges. She would begin her work before the other children woke up for school, sometime between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., then would work until they went to bed, she told investigators. Until 2011 when the oldest graduated, the complaint alleges she slept on the floor of one of the children’s bedrooms. Palmer denied this, saying the children do not recall that ever happening.
Witnesses interviewed said they thought the Toures must have hired a nanny, according to the complaint, saying they always observed the girl working and didn’t think she had any friends or a life outside the home.
Palmer said he is investigating why the girl was not enrolled in school. “I believe it was an issue complicated by not having a birth certificate or legal guardianship or adoption papers,” he said.
If the girl did not perform her duties to Cros-Toure’s liking, the complaint alleges that the couple beat her. She told the special agents that the beatings got worse as her pain tolerance increased: Slapping led to the use of a belt, which led to the use of an electrical cord to strike her. On some occasions she would be locked out of the house as punishment and would spend the night in a park, having no place else to go, investigators said.
In one case, a police officer found her sleeping on a bench. She was “wearing dirty unkempt clothing and was very visibly scared and nervous,” he wrote in a police report. He returned her to the Toure residence, suspecting she was just a runaway. But he was skeptical as to why her apparent guardians did not call 911.
Fourteen years later, she would run away for good.
It was Father’s Day 2016. Cros-Toure became angry with her because she didn’t make anything for dinner, according to the complaint. During the argument, the girl tried to run away but Cros-Toure blocked the stairway. So instead she jumped out the window. She spent the night in the park again, the complaint says, and then contacted one of her old neighbors — the one she used to babysit for.
The woman and another neighbor told investigators they encouraged the girl to return to the home, gather evidence of her situation and prior years of abuse, including photographs and recorded conversation, which the girl obtained on a Kindle she got with babysitting money — and to search for her passport. Two months later, the witnesses interviewed by special agents said they returned to the Toure home to help her escape while the family was away.
She brought with her only a duffel bag, and was taken to the YMCA for a place to stay.
The YMCA contacted federal authorities about a “potential forced labor matter” the following month.
“Through the investigation, I determined that Toure and Cros-Toure did not contact the police to report [the girl] missing, or for any other purpose, following her departure from their home in August 2016,” the agent wrote.
A conviction on the forced labor charges would mean the couple could face up to 20 years in prison.