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October 30, 2012Detroit, MI, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Michigan resident convicted in human trafficking case

DETROIT — A Michigan resident was found guilty Tuesday by a federal jury, after less than a day of deliberation, on charges related to the forced slavery of minors from his native Togo. The verdict was announced by U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Special Agent in Charge William Hayes.

Evidence introduced during the trial established that Jean-Claude "Kodjo" Toviave, a native of Togo, West Africa, 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. In immigration documents, Toviave represented that the four individuals were his biological children. Toviave pleaded guilty Feb. 24 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 his orders to complete household labor. The victims' testimonies during trial detailed the work they were forced to do on a weekly, and occasionally, daily basis, spanning nearly five years. They were required to cook and clean for the household, wash laundry by hand, iron Toviave's suits, shine his shoes, wash and vacuum his car, babysit his friends' children and clean a friend's home. In addition to force and threats of force, Toviave used food and sleep deprivation as punishment for the minors.

"This conviction is a victory not only for the young victims in this particular case, but also for human dignity and the rule of law," said Hayes. "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 McQuade. "We are working with victim advocates and law enforcement agencies to expose these crimes. This conviction and the liberation of these victims occurred because of the diligence of school teachers, advocates, investigators and prosecutors."

Toviave's sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 6, 2013, where he faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.