A Texas couple with deep political connections in the West African country of Guinea was charged Thursday with forced labor after a young woman they allegedly enslaved for more than 16 years managed to escape their home in Southlake with help from neighbors.
Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure, both 57, allegedly brought the victim from Guinea to Texas in 2000, when she was just 5 years old. She has not been named.
They allegedly then forced the girl to do housework and care for their children, subjecting her to emotional and physical abuse, the Department of Justice said in a press release.
“Although the victim was close in age to the children, the defendants denied her access to schooling and the other opportunities afforded to their children,” the department alleges.
The couple originally hail from Guinea, where Mohamed Toure is an influential figure and son of Guinea’s first President, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
The younger Toure was also a leader of the political opposition party in Guinea, although he has no diplomatic immunity or status, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Following his father’s death in 1984, Mohamed Toure was imprisoned along with other members of his family, according to the authors of Historical Dictionary of Guinea. He was later exiled to Morocco and Ivory Coast before settling in Texas with his wife and children.
He later returned to Guinea, where he was named secretary general of his father’s old political party.
Now, Toure and his wife face up to 20 years in prison on the forced labor charge.
“As part of their coercive scheme to compel the victim’s labor, the defendants took her documents and caused her to remain unlawfully in the United States after her visa expired,” the Justice Department alleges in its press release. “They further isolated her from her family and others and emotionally and physically abused her.”
In the criminal complaint against the Toure, the lead investigator alleges that the victim – referred to only as Female Victim 1 or FV-1 – was forced to sleep on the floor for years, and was only taken to see a medical professional once.
The complaint also alleges disturbing incidents of physical abuse by Cros-Toure, who allegedly beat the victim, sometimes with a belt or electrical cord. In one incident, the victim alleged an earring was pulled out of her ear by Cros-Toure with such force that it tore her earlobe, leaving a visible scar.
The victim allegedly was also frequently yelled at or kicked out of the house without money, identification, or the ability to communicate in English.
On one occasion, the victim was discovered in a park by a police officer and returned to the Toure family as a suspected runaway.
“Eventually, in August 2016, the victim escaped the defendants with the help of several former neighbors,” the release also alleges.
In a statement to CNN on Friday, Scott Palmer, the attorney representing Denise Cros-Toure, said the complaint was “riddled with salacious allegations, fabrications, and lies.”
“The subject was considered a member of the family and treated like a daughter by Denise Cros-Toure and Mohamed Toure,” said Palmer. “The kids considered her part of the family and each of them had chores and responsibilities like every family.”
Palmer insists the victim was well treated, and lived a normal life.
“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 statement adds.
The case was investigated by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, which is often involved in criminal cases that have an international dimension.