Chudi and Sandra Nsobundu, the Texas based Nigerian couple who kept kept a Nigerian woman enslaved in their home for two years while she worked as their maid and nanny have pleaded guilty at a Houston federal courtroom.
The couple pleaded guilty to one count each, just days before jury selection was set to begin.
“What has got to be emphasized is we’re here not only to punish people but to rescue the victims,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben R. Perez, who heads the human trafficking unit for the Southern District of Texas.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben R. Perez said:
“This couple enslaved this nanny for over two years and for two years this nanny did not get paid a single cent for her work,”
“She thought that 20,000 Nigerian nairas – the equivalent of $100 – was going to be deposited in her account per month, but she didn’t even get that.”
The couple admitted they kept the nanny’s passport and threatened harm if she did not cook, clean and tend to their five children. The victim told investigators she was forced to sleep on the floor, bathe in cold water, eat leftovers and work nearly 20-hour shifts seven days a week from September 2013 to October 2015.
After hearing more than an hour of barely audible and tearful testimony from the couple, Senior U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas said she believed the defendants knowingly intended to commit the acts and that they understood they were forgoing their rights to a jury trial and appeals.
Perez, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie N. Searle, said the victim – who falls under protected status in the United States under an act of Congress – came from abject poverty, did not speak English and had minimal education. She remains in the country but was not present in court.
Chudy Nsobundu, 57, pleaded guilty to visa fraud, admitting he fraudulently submitted an online application for a tourist visa by pretending to be the nanny. He stated falsely on the application that the woman was married, was his sister, was 20 years older than she really was, and that she would be traveling to the United States for her niece’s graduation.
Sandra Nsobundu, 49, pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding the woman’s passport.
In exchange for their pleas, the couple will not have to forfeit their home in Cinco Ranch. The government, however, has asked that they pay their former employee $129,000 in backwages, to comply with American federal labour laws.
The judge also set sentencing for Jan. 4.
According to the plea agreements, Sandra Nsobundu confessed she accompanied the woman, known only as A.E. in court documents, to the U.S. Consulate in Lagos in September 2013 to obtain her visa and presented a letter falsely stating A.E. was her husband’s sister and was married to the couple’s driver in Nigeria.
The Nsobundus covered her travel expenses to Houston, but as soon as she stepped into their vehicle on Sept. 29, 2013, Sandra obtained control of the nanny’s Nigerian passport and other personal belongings and would not relinquish them.
The rules would be strict, the nanny learned, preventing her from making friends and getting assistance, according to the plea agreements.
She would work seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. She could not take breaks, sit down or watch TV. She could not use the telephone, see a doctor for a poorly healed arm, attend church regularly or walk beyond the immediate neighborhood with the young children.
She was forced to sleep on the floor in the children’s bedroom, in the space between their beds. If she wanted milk for her tea, it had to be drained from the children’s cereal bowls.
The Nsobundus also subjected her to physical and emotional abuse. They frequently yelled at, scolded and berated the woman for moving too slowly or failing to care for the children in the manner they wanted. They called her “the idiot” and hit and slapped her in the neck, arms and back on a weekly basis until the situation came to the attention of federal investigators, with the help of a concerned neighbor who was fluent in Igbo.
The tip to National Human Trafficking Resource Center on Oct. 10, 2015, set the government’s case in motion.
Sandra Nsobundu faces a maximum of five years in prison and Chudy Nsobundu faces up to 10 years in prison. Both could also face up to a $250,000 fine.