Woman ac­cused of keep­ing ‘en­slaved’ im­mi­grants in home ad­mits to forced la­bor

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON SEI­DEL, FED­ERAL COURTS REPORTER jsei­del@suntimes.com | @Sei­delCon­tent

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.

MANNY RAMOS/SUN-TIMES FILE

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.

Con­cep­cion Ma­linek

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