CRIME

Couple guilty of exploiting Kenyan woman for domestic labor

A New Jersey couple was convicted Tuesday of bringing a Kenyan woman to the United States and exploiting her for domestic labor in their home.

Federal prosecutors say 53-year-old Michael Wood and his 45-year-old wife, Mary, recruited the woman in Kenya to care for their four minor children. In August 2005, they say Michael Wood gave the woman his adult daughter's British passport and directed her to memorize the information and pretend to be the daughter.

Upon entering the United States, Michael Wood represented the woman as his daughter.

Once in New Jersey, the Mullica Hill couple forced the woman to clean the house, do the laundry, cook and care for the children. She had to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and was paid $200 a month. Evidence at trial revealed that the defendants would have been required to pay her about $5,200 a month under U.S. labor laws.

To conceal the woman from authorities, the defendants didn't allow her to leave the house except to walk the children to school. They also told her not to talk to anyone outside of the house or family, authorities said.

In June 2006, Mary Wood's sister and other family members moved the woman to their homes, where they continued to harbor her and exploit her domestic labor, authorities said. The woman managed to leave in 2011, prompting the federal investigation.

A jury on Tuesday found Michael and Mary Wood guilty of alien harboring for financial gain and conspiracy. Mary Wood also was convicted of fraudulently obtaining naturalization as a United States citizen, but she was acquitted of making false statements in connection with the investigation.

They are due to be sentenced Sept. 7. Michael Wood faces up to 10 years in prison, while his wife could get up to 20 years.

Six other defendants, including members of Mary Wood's family, have pleaded guilty to charges in Pennsylvania related to their roles in the scheme.