A suburban Chicago woman has pleaded guilty to helping several migrants from Guatemala come to the United States and entrapping them in her home until they paid off their debt to her.
Concepcion Malinek, 50, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of labor trafficking, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The Cicero, Illinois, woman admitted in a plea declaration that she assisted 10 Guatemalan immigrants with illegally entering the U.S. from 2009 to 2019, federal prosecutors said.
Malinek forced most of the immigrants to live in her basement, arranged for them to work at a factory and collected large portions of their paychecks.
She told them they couldn’t leave until they paid their debt, and threatened to have them deported if they did not, prosecutors said.
Malinek originally told the immigrants she would charge about $5,000 to help them enter the U.S., but allegedly charged them anywhere from $18,000 to $42,000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The FBI was tipped off and nabbed Malinek in March 2019. At the time, authorities found 33 people – including 14 children – living in her single-family home.
‘Immigration knows how many people live in this home,’ Malinek would tell the victims, court documents quoted one of the migrants saying.
‘They know you are poor and I have all of the money.’
A Guatemalan man said Malinek was charging him $18,000 for allowing him to use her as the main reference on his immigration paperwork.
Despite allowing the man’s 15-year-old daughter to live in the first floor of the home, he and the rest of migrants were stuck in the basement and his personal contact with his daughter was extremely ‘limited.’
A married man agreed to pay Malinek $37,000 in exchange for allowing his wife and the couple’s two children to live in the basement.
Though she pleaded guilty, she did not reach a plea agreement with prosecutors. She entered her plea during a hearing held by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A federal judge in Chicago scheduled an October 20 sentencing date for Malinek, but indicated it could change. She faces a maximum 20-year prison term.
Robert Rascia, Malinek’s attorney, has previously insisted that Malinek ‘did not use any violence, physical force, or threats of violence or force to compel anyone to work for her, or to pay their outstanding debts to her, or to continue residing at her home.’
‘Each of [Malinek´s] houseguests voluntarily agreed to enter into this arrangement and they voluntarily remained at her home without anyone preventing them from leaving,’ Rascia wrote in a court filing earlier this year.