CHICAGO – An Illinois woman accused of keeping 33 people from Guatemala in her basement pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal labor trafficking charge.
Concepcion Malinek, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of labor trafficking, punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois said in a press release.
Malinek, who is a U.S. citizen from Guatemala, admitted that she assisted 10 immigrants with illegally entering the U.S. from 2009 to 2019, according to the attorney's office.
Once in the country, Malinek provided the immigrants with fraudulent IDs and arranged for them to live in her home in Cicero, Illinois, while they worked in nearby jobs. Malinek then threatened to contact U.S. immigration authorities if the immigrants wouldn’t pay her a substantial portion of their earnings, the office said.
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In March 2019, federal agents raided Malinek's home in Cicero and found 19 adults and 14 children residing there, according to the federal complaint.
Federal officials also discovered a ledger where Malinek kept track of the amount her victims owed. The ledger included the line "you are free to leave or stay after the debt has been paid," according to the complaint.
One victim told federal authorities that she was kept at the house with her husband and two children and that Malinek said she would lose her children if she told anyone what was happening inside the home, according to the complaint.
The victim said Malinek verbally abused them and set up a list of "rules" on the back of the door leading out of the basement, according to the complaint. One of the rules stated that the basement had to be clean before everyone left for work or the victims would have to pay a fine. Another rule stipulated that the victims would be assigned to cleaning the house in separate shifts.
Human sex and labor trafficking remains a persistent issue in the United States and around the world. In 2019, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 11,500 human trafficking cases in the U.S., including more than 1,000 labor trafficking cases and hundreds of cases of both sex and labor trafficking. That year, Homeland Security launched more than 1,000 human trafficking investigations and assisted 428 victims.
In recent years, most human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline are in California, Texas and Florida. Illinois consistently ranks among the top states for human trafficking cases. In 2019, there were 267 human trafficking cases reported to the hotline.
As in the Cicero case, threatening workers with visas and unauthorized workers with arrest is a common means of keeping them in forced labor in the U.S., according to various studies.
If you believe you are a victim of labor trafficking, you are encouraged to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.
Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter at @grace_hauck.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Woman accused of keeping 33 Guatemalans in basement pleads guilty