HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston-area couple forced a Nigerian woman to care for their five children and home without pay during a two-year period in which she was physically and verbally abused, made to work nearly 20 hours a day and told to sleep on the floor, federal authorities say.
Chudy and Sandra Nsobundu were arrested Monday on charges of forced labor, withholding documents, conspiracy to harbor an illegal immigrant and visa fraud. Authorities say the couple seized the nanny's passport, so she was unable to leave.
The 38-year-old nanny, whose full name is not given in the criminal complaint, told authorities she was promised $100 per month but has never been paid in her two years working for the Nsobundus in their home in the Houston suburb of Katy.
"She regularly endured physical and verbal abuse and was not treated like a human being," the criminal complaint said.
The Nsobundus made their initial court appearances Tuesday during separate court hearings. U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson granted Sandra Nsobundu, 50, an unsecured bond and Chudy Nsobundu, 56, a $5,000 bond.
It wasn't immediately known if both would be released later Tuesday. Prosecutors had asked that Chudy Nsobundu be held without bond, arguing he was a flight risk.
Joan Nwuli, Sandra Nsobundu's attorney, declined to comment after her court hearing.
The judge asked Chudy Nsobundu to hire an attorney after he didn't qualify for a court-appointed lawyer. During his court hearing, Chudy Nsobundu said he runs a business that provides home health care services.
The Nsobundus each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Ruben Perez, one of the federal prosecutors handling the case, said after Sandra Nsobundu's hearing that the nanny was "enslaved" by her employers. Perez said cases in which immigrants and others are forced to work in homes in harsh conditions as nannies or caretakers are more common than people think.
"We know they are out there. When it comes to our attention we'll act on them," he said.
The nanny, who was living in Lagos, Nigeria, moved to Texas to live with the Nsobundus in September 2013, according to the criminal complaint. The Nsobundus are naturalized U.S. citizens originally from Nigeria.
The complaint said the nanny would work every day from 5:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., couldn't take breaks and had to eat leftovers and not fresh food, including being forced to only drink milk left in bowls in which the children had eaten cereal. She also couldn't take hot showers, according to the complaint.
The nanny alleged Sandra Nsobundu repeatedly hit her if she thought the woman wasn't doing her job correctly. The complaint said Sandra Nsobundu is accused of once striking the nanny across the face with a slipper and threatening to "shoot her and kill her" after not liking the socks the woman had put on one of the younger children.
After the nanny found out that she hadn't been paid in two years, she reached out for help and was rescued last October following a tip to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, the complaint said. It's not clear who made the tip.
Perez said the nanny is being cared for, but he declined to offer more details about her status.
This story has been corrected to show the maximum punishment the Nsobundus each face if convicted is 20 years in prison, not 25 years.
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