Woman accused of keeping ‘enslaved’ immigrants in home admits to forced labor
A woman accused last year of keeping “enslaved” Guatemalan immigrants in her squalid Cicero home pleaded guilty Tuesday to forced labor.
Concepcion Malinek, 50, admitted through her lawyer that she helped several people enter the United States between 2009 and 2014, only to charge them fees and demand payment while threatening to have them deported. She also helped some of them obtain fraudulent IDs.
In one case, she admitted she offered to help a Guatemalan citizen enter the United States illegally for $8,000 before increasing and adding fees for “additional services.” Robert Rascia, Malinek’s attorney, said Malinek let that person stay at her home while she paid off the debt.
Though she pleaded guilty, Malinek did not reach a deal with prosecutors. She entered her plea during a hearing held by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang set a sentencing date in October but warned it could change.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente said Malinek faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Rascia said she is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Federal prosecutors have said that Malinek spent nearly a decade luring struggling people from her homeland of Guatemala to her house in Cicero with promises of a better life. Once smuggled across the border, the feds say she charged her victims exorbitant fees for her help and crammed them into her single family home where authorities found 33 people living at the time of Malinek’s arrest in March 2019.
Malinek allegedly forced most of the immigrants to live in her basement, arranged for them to work at a factory, collected large portions of their paychecks and told them they couldn’t leave until they paid their debt. Though she originally told the immigrants she would charge around $5,000 to help them enter the United States, she allegedly wound up charging them anywhere from $18,000 to $42,000.
Prosecutors said she kept track of the debts in ledgers.
“To keep the victims silenced, [Malinek] threatened them with deportation and the loss of their children if they ever told anyone about their debt to her or their living arrangements inside her home,” Parente wrote in one court filing.
The prosecutor has said FBI agents found “deplorable” conditions inside Malinek’s home, including mold, cockroaches, backed-up sewage, mattresses “all over the place,” and children infected with lice.
Parente also alleged that once, after the 2-year-old child of two of Malinek’s victims purportedly scalded his head with hot tea, Malinek refused to let the victims take their child to a hospital. Instead, she allegedly gave them tomato sauce for the child’s wounds, leaving the parents “to watch for days as their son suffered through this extreme pain without the assistance of any medical treatment.”
Rascia 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 his own court filing earlier this year.
Federal authorities say they found 33 people living in a Cicero home following allegations that Guatemalan citizens were being held in the basement there and forced to work.