A school teacher in US was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison for forcing a Haitian girl to work as a slave for years in her South Florida home.
In March last Maude Paulin, 52, was convicted along with her mother Evelyn Theodore, 74 in the Haitian slavery case.
The jury rejected their claims that the girl feigned abuse so she could remain in the U.S.
Paulin was also convicted of harboring an illegal alien for financial gain.
Theodore and Paulin's ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, were both acquitted of that count but convicted of a lesser charge of harboring an illegal alien. Claire Telasco, Paulin's sister, was acquitted of conspiracy and forced labor charges.
The sentences were pronounced Tuesday. Saintfort Paulin received 18 months' probation, including six months of house arrest. He said that he left the home in 2001 and that Celestin's treatment was his ex-wife's idea.
"I ended up going along willingly. I'm sorry for what transpired," said Saintfort Paulin, who now lives in New Jersey.
Sentencing was postponed for Theodore because she suffered a stroke shortly after the jury verdict and is incompetent for court proceedings, court papers show.
Prosecutors alleged that Celestin was stolen at age 5 from her mother and grandmother in a mountain village and forced to pretend she was an orphan at the orphanage Theodore ran with her late husband in Ranquitte, Haiti., news agency AP reported.
At age 14, the girl was taken to the U.S. on a 29-day visa. Prosecutors alleged that for the next six years, Celestin's life consisted of 15-hour work days as an unpaid servant, with no schooling. She escaped in 2005.
Celestin, now 22, testified that she considered suicide after years of beatings and intimidation. She tearfully described sleeping on the floor, rummaging through cast-off clothes in the garage for something to wear, bathing from a bucket or a garden hose and scrubbing floors when she should have been in school.
She said Theodore and Maude Paulin often struck her with their hands, shoes or objects such as a curling iron or a mortar if she didn't finish the work to their satisfaction.
The defendants denied mistreating Celestin. Defense attorneys argued during trial that her allegations of abuse were motivated by her desire to be a permanent legal resident of the U.S.
Prosecutors said Celestin is one of thousands of Haitian children, known by the Creole term "restaveks," who are forced into involuntary servitude both in Haiti and in the U.S. UNICEF has estimated that up to 17,500 such people are brought to the U.S. each year to become slaves.
Senior U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. said Maude Paulin and her mother are liable for more than $162,000 in restitution to Celestin. They were convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin's 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for them and of harboring an alien for financial gain.
The sentence imposed by Gonzalez on Maude Paulin was at the low end of federal guidelines but is still higher than prison terms in many similar cases. Prosecutor Edward Chung of the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division said a stiff sentence was important to deter others.
"This is an extremely serious crime," Chung said.
About two dozen of Maude Paulin's friends and relatives jammed the courtroom for the hearing, where she was seeking a lenient sentence, possibly even probation. Daughter Erica Paulin said her mother was generous and caring, especially for the plight of children in poverty-plagued Haiti.
"My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people," Erica Paulin said. "She is not a monster."
But Chung said the defendant simply won't admit that she did something wrong.
"Maude Paulin does not to this day acknowledge that she committed this crime," Chung said.
Maude Paulin, who taught middle school in Miami-Dade County, will be forced to surrender her Florida teaching certificate. Partly because of her mother's illness, Gonzalez agreed to allow her to remain free until July 30.