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March 25, 2013Detroit, MI, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Michigan man sentenced to more than 11 years in human-trafficking related case

DETROIT — A Ypsilanti, Mich., man was sentenced March 25 to 135 months in prison after having been found guilty by trial in October 2012 of four counts of forced labor. The sentence is the result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Jean-Claude "Kodjo" Toviave, 44, a native of Togo, West Africa, in addition to his prison sentence, was ordered to pay his victims more than $130,000 in restitution which represents minimum wage for their hours of labor.

According to the investigation, Toviave used force, and threats of force, to obtain the domestic labor of four minors from Togo from January 2006 to January 2011. Toviave brought the four minors into the United States by giving them passports with false names and dates of birth. He represented on their immigration documents that the four individuals were his biological children. Toviave pleaded guilty Feb. 24, 2012, to visa fraud, mail fraud and harboring aliens in connection with bringing the four minors to Michigan from Togo.

The four victims testified at trial that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrappers and phone chargers if they failed to obey Toviave's orders to complete household labor.

Each of the victims' testimony during trial detailed the work that they were forced to do on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, spanning nearly five years. This domestic work included all of the cooking and cleaning in the house, hand-washing laundry, ironing Toviave's suits, shining his shoes, washing and vacuuming his car, baby-sitting the children of his friends and cleaning his friend's home. In addition to force and threats of force, Toviave used food and sleep deprivation as punishment for the minors.

"This sentence is a victory not only for the young victims in this particular case, but also for human dignity and the rule of law," said William J. Hayes, acting special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. "HSI is fully committed to working with our law enforcement partners, both local and international, to combat the crime of human trafficking. Sadly, this crime occurs every day in America. We encourage anyone who suspects that human trafficking or forced labor is occurring in their community to report it to authorities immediately."

"Many people are shocked to learn that slavery and human trafficking still exist in this country, but the victims are often hiding in plain sight," said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, Eastern District of Michigan. "We are working with victim advocates and law enforcement agencies to expose these crimes and raise public awareness. This conviction and the rescue of these victims occurred because of the diligence of school teachers, advocates, investigators and prosecutors."