Monday, October 17, 2011

Nigerian woman jailed 140 months for human trafficking

A Nigerian woman, Bidemi Bello, has been sentenced to 140 months in jail by a United States Court on human trafficking charges.

The 42-year-old Nigerian, who became a US citizen while she committed the crime, was also ordered by District Judge William S. Duffey Jr., to be deported from the US upon completion of her sentence.

Bello, who was first arraigned last September, was on June12, 2011 convicted of an eight count charge of forced labour, document servitude, alien harboring for financial gain and making false statement in an application to become US citizen.

Evidence and testimony at trial showed that Bello,formerly based in Suwanee, Georgia, brought her two victims simply identified as Laome and Dupe at separate times to US to work as nannies to her child. In return, Bello had promised she would send the young women to school in US, and for one victim, she also promised to pay her as well.

Laome was said to have traveled to US with Bello in October 2001 when she was 17 years old, using a fraudulent British passport she obtained for her, while Dupe traveled with an associate of Bello to US in November, 2004 when she was 20, also using a fraudulent British passport.

Upon arrival in US, Bello was said to have reneged on her promise to the victims and their families that she would send the two ladies to school in US and even pay one of them for her services.

She was also said to have threatened, physically abused, and isolated both victims from their families in order to force them to work for her without pay while also taking custody of their passports and government identification documents in order to maintain their services - an offence known as document servitude.

Testimony at trial also showed that the victims were sleep deprived, as they were forced to be on call for Bello's child all night, while Bello, who lived in an upscale home with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, made her victims sleep on the floor or a couch, prevented them from using the shower, or eat the food they cooked, and even forced them to eat spoilt and moldy food.

Apart from giving them several tasks to perform, she was also said to have prevented them from using modern appliances such as washing machine, dishwasher and lawn mower.

One of Bello's friend was said to have helped Laome to escape by hiding her in the back of another woman's car, who covered her with blankets, and drove her away while she was at a party. It was after her escape that Bello brought in the second victim, Dupe.

Dupe was said to have escaped by saving up $60 that was given to her by friends of Bello, before she was assisted by pastors at a church in Marietta after taking a cab to the church.

In accordance with US laws against such abuses, Laome and Dupe were given T-visas which allowed them to remain in US to assist in the prosecution of Bello. A friend and a relative of Bello were among the witnesses that testified at the trial about the abuse they witnessed.

Bello, who had moved out of US during the investigation, was found and arrested at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston upon re-entering US last year.

Quoting the Special Agent in Charge of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) in Atlanta, Brock Nicholson, a statement from the Department of Justice said, "This sentencing closes the door on a shocking case of modern day slavery.

"Human trafficking deprives victims of their freedom and dignity and it has no place in our world. Cases like this one serve to strengthen our resolve to protect and defend those who may not be able to evade or escape the grip of human trafficking."

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, in his reaction noted that, "holding other human beings against their will in servitude is a violation of human rights that will not be tolerated in our free society," adding, US was committed "to combating human trafficking in all its forms, vindicating the rights of trafficking victims and bringing human traffickers to justice."

Bello, is however not the first US-based Nigerians to be entrapped by the lure of cheap labour. Last year, a Nigerian couple, Emmanuel Nnaji and Ngozi Nnaji, was sentenced to 20 years and nine years in prison respectively, for trafficking a Nigerian widow and enslaving her for over eight years in US.

In 2006, a Nigerian-born medical doctor, Adaobi Stella Udeozor, a resident of Darnestown, Maryland was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison and fined for enslaving another Nigerian. She was also ordered to pay restitution of $110,249 to her 23-year old victim for her years of unpaid services.

In 1999, another Nigerian couple, Emeka Udogwu and Ifeoma Ezeona Udogwu, were arrested for trafficking two young Nigerian girls into the United States and forcing them to be their servants.

This Day

Related stories: Nigerian couple facing 55 years in U.S. Jail for alleged slavery

Video - Documentary on human trafficking between Nigeria and Italy

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