An Illinois woman is facing federal charges of forced labor after the F.B.I. raided her home and discovered 33 Guatemalan immigrants, some of whom were made to work and pay thousands of dollars as a debt for helping them stay in the United States, the authorities said this week.
The F.B.I. searched the home of the woman, Concepcion Malinek, in Cicero, Ill., a Chicago suburb, on Tuesday morning after interviewing immigrants who described an abusive living situation in which Ms. Malinek exerted control over their every move, according to a criminal complaint. The authorities said they found 19 adults and 14 children, as well as documents apparently outlining the immigrants’ debts to Ms. Malinek, 49.
The immigrants who spoke with the F.B.I. said that Ms. Malinek, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Guatemala, either helped pay for their plane ticket to Chicago or allowed them to tell immigration authorities that they would be staying at her house after they crossed the United States-Mexico border, according to the complaint. When the immigrants arrived to Ms. Malinek’s home, it said, she told them that they owed her thousands of dollars for her assistance.
Some of the immigrants, who were not named in the complaint, told the F.B.I. that Ms. Malinek charged them for rent, child care and transportation to a factory where she arranged for them to work, according to the complaint. One man said he slept in the basement of Ms. Malinek’s home and that she did not allow them to leave the basement unless they received her permission. The man and his 15-year-old daughter, who lived on the ground floor, were allowed to see each other only for limited periods of time, the complaint said.
The authorities also found fraudulent permanent resident cards for the father and daughter in the house, the complaint said. The 15-year-old daughter, who worked at the factory with the other immigrants, had a fake permanent resident card that said she was in her late 20s
The authorities said they learned of the alleged forced-labor scheme through a tip from someone who worked with the immigrants at the factory in Romeoville, Ill., about 25 miles southwest of Cicero. The immigrants told the authorities that Ms. Malinek often threatened them with deportation if they told anyone about their living situation.
According to the complaint, one of the immigrants said that Ms. Malinek had told them, “Immigration knows how many people live in this house,” and that “you guys are poor and I have all the money.”
Ms. Malinek was charged with two counts of forced labor in reference to two immigrants who say she forced them to work under the threat of serious harm. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
On Thursday, United States Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole ordered that Ms. Malinek be held without bail, according to court documents.
A lawyer for Ms. Malinek did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday night.
A spokesman for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois said Ms. Malinek’s husband, who is a Transportation Security Administration agent, is also being investigated. The spokesman would not specify where the 33 Guatemalan immigrants were living after they were recovered from the home but said that some were in protective custody.
According to the complaint, one of the immigrants told the authorities that Ms. Malinek called them upstairs from the basement each Thursday to meet with “immigration officials.” The Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether these were actual immigration officials.
A prosector told The Chicago Sun-Times that the immigrants were being held in squalor, with mold, cockroaches and leaking sewage in the house. In court on Thursday, The Chicago Sun-Times reported, Ms. Malinek’s defense lawyer, Raymond Pijon, told the judge that Ms. Malinek believed she was helping the immigrants — some of them her family members — flee Guatemala.
“There was a lot of good heart behind that,” Pijon said, according to The Sun-Times, “because she knows what’s happening in Guatemala.”
The Justice Department spokesman would not comment on whether the immigrants were in the country illegally or not, but in the complaint, one of the immigrants told the F.B.I. that some people living in the house were seeking political asylum.