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Jury convicts Georgia woman of trafficking 2 Nigerian women

By Dana Ford, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bidemi Bello was found guilty on eight counts
  • An attorney describes the case as one of "modern-day slavery"
  • Bello had promised to help further the women's educations
  • She never paid them and repeatedly beat both women, evidence shows
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Atlanta (CNN) -- A Georgia woman has been convicted of human trafficking and other charges for bringing two Nigerian women to the United States and forcing them to work in her lavish home like slaves, the U.S. Justice Department said Monday.

Bidemi Bello, 41, was convicted on eight counts by a federal jury late last week: two counts each of forced labor, trafficking for forced labor and making false statements in an application to become a U.S. citizen, and one count each of document servitude and alien harboring.

"The evidence showed that this was a case of modern-day slavery hidden within an expensive home in an upscale neighborhood," said Sally Quillian Yates, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

Bello recruited her first victim, identified as "Laome," in 2001, according to prosecutors. The girl was 17 when she traveled, using a fake British passport that Bello had gotten for her, they said.

The second victim, identified as "Dupe," traveled to the United States in 2004, when she was 20, also on a fake passport.

Both women were promised a better life and told that Bello would help further their educations. But upon arriving in the United States, they discovered a decidedly darker reality.

Bello beat the women for any perceived infraction -- not cleaning well, not responding quickly enough to the cries of her child, talking back -- with whatever weapon was available: shoes, a large wooden spoon, electric cords and her hands, evidence showed.

Testimony also revealed that Bello forced the women to sleep on the floor or couch and bathe with a bucket. They were not allowed to eat what they cooked, and Bello sometimes gave the women spoiled food, evidence showed.

Prosecutors said Bello never paid the women for their years of work and made them dependent on her for all their basic necessities.

Attempts to contact Bello's attorney were unsuccessful Monday.

Laome managed to escape with the help of a friend, buried beneath blankets in the back of the other woman's car, while Dupe scrounged enough money to pay for a cab and sought help at a local church, prosecutors said.

Both women testified during the one-week trial.

Bello, who holds both American and Nigerian citizenship, is scheduled to be sentenced August 24.

The two forced labor charges and the two trafficking for forced labor charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. She is also expected to be stripped of her American citizenship, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge. If she is, Bello would be deported after serving her expected sentence.

Around the world, as estimated 12.3 million adults and children -- 56% of whom are women and girls -- are the victims of forced labor, bonded labor and sex slavery, according to U.S. State Department. The trade puts approximately $32 billion into the pockets of traffickers each year.

Coppedge, who is helping prosecute Bello's case, said she is sure similar cases exist in Atlanta and elsewhere in the United States.

"Unfortunately, yes," she said. "I do think there are others."

Her office urged anyone with information on a human trafficking case to contact the Atlanta FBI at (404) 679-9000.

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