In September 2020, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) announced that five special agents and one investigative specialist with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) received FLEOA’s 2019 National Group Achievement Award for investigating a complex labor trafficking case that resulted in heavy prison sentences and restitution for the woman.
In September 2016, the investigative team, including Special Agents Katherine Langston of Kingwood, Texas, Zachary Bowen of Mansfield, Texas, Tom Huszcza of Jacksonville, Florida, Keith Knowles of Belleville, Illinois, John Freeman of Manassas, Virginia, and Investigative Specialist Michelle Lundby of El Paso, Texas, received a lead indicating that a West African woman had been forced into domestic servitude by a wealthy couple in Southlake, Texas. For 16 years, the couple forced her to cook, clean and care for their five children without pay while they physically, emotionally and verbally abused her.
The woman never attended school, was never seen or treated by a physician and was isolated from society. According to the award nomination, defendants physically assaulted the woman on multiple occasions, “including with the kitchen radio’s electrical cord, leaving permanent scars on her arms, legs and back.” The defendants verbally abused the woman for years, telling her that “no one cared for her” and referred to her as a “dog,” a “slave” and “worthless.” At times, the traffickers forced her to sleep in a nearby park as punishment, and one of the defendants told the victim that she hoped someone would rape her.
The investigation began in the United States, but since the woman had entered the country under false pretenses, DSS agents in Houston worked with DSS special agents and investigators at the U.S. Embassy Conakry in her native country of Guinea to gather evidence. After about two years, the investigative team had a case file demonstrating the wealthy couple had committed forced labor, conspiracy to commit alien harboring, and alien harboring.
The couple used their political influence to try and get their case thrown out of court. Additionally, the federal government shutdown in early 2019 almost shuttered the trial. However, the U.S. attorney pushed forward with the case. After an intense trial, the couple was sentenced to seven years in prison each and ordered to pay more than $288,000 in restitution to the woman.
For their relentless pursuit to secure justice for a victim of labor trafficking, FLEOA recognized the DSS investigative team with a group achievement award.
DSS has the largest global presence of any U.S. law enforcement organization, operating at more than 270 U.S. diplomatic posts in over 170 countries, and in 32 U.S. cities. The organization is responsible for investigating transnational crimes and for protecting State Department facilities, people, and information.
Trafficking in persons, also known as modern slavery or human trafficking, includes both sex trafficking and compelled labor. For more information on the State Department’s work deterring this global crime, please visit https://www.state.gov/what-is-trafficking-in-persons/.
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