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US couple faces long jail terms for exploiting Kenyan house help

A jury in the state of New Jersey on Wednesday convicted a couple on federal charges of smuggling a Kenyan woman into the US and exploiting her for domestic labour and child care.

Michael and Mary Wood could be given prison terms of 10 and 20 years, respectively, at a sentencing session scheduled for September 7.

The Kenyan woman, identified in court papers only as P.I., was paid $200 a month while being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for duties that included laundering, house cleaning, cooking and caring for the couple’s four children, prosecutors said.

WITHOUT PERMISSION

They charged that the Woods “isolated P.I. from her family and others, prohibited her from speaking to others or leaving their residence without permission, and controlled her access to food and basic necessities.”

The couple also led P.I. to believe “she would be arrested and deported if she spoke to anyone or left their residence without permission, which would result in serious harm, including financial harm, to P.I. and her family in Africa,” authorities charged.

The couple arranged for the $200 monthly payment to be sent to P.I.’s family in Kenya after deducting expenses, prosecutors recounted.

The court was told that under US labour laws the woman should have been paid $5,200 a month.