Florida Woman Gets 7 Years for Forcing Haitian Girl to Work as Slave

A former teacher was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in prison for forcing a Haitian girl to work as a slave for years, each day of the week, in her South Florida home.

Maude Paulin, 52, admitted she had made mistakes in bringing Simone Celestin to the U.S. and apologized for what happened, but insisted she wanted only good things for the girl.

"I love Simone with all my heart," Paulin told Senior U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. at a sentencing hearing. "I regret it. I blame myself."

Paulin's ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, was sentenced to house arrest for a lesser role.

The sentence imposed by Gonzalez on Maude Paulin was at the low end of federal guidelines but is still higher than prison terms in many similar cases. Prosecutor Edward Chung of the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division said a stiff sentence was important to deter others.

"This is an extremely serious crime," Chung said.

Paulin, her 74-year-old mother, Evelyn Theodore, and Saintfort Paulin were convicted in March for their roles in forcing Celestin to work 15 hours a day at their Miami home. Celestin, who was living at a Haitian orphanage, was brought to the U.S. in 1999 at age 14 and escaped from the home in 2005.

Prosecutors said Celestin is one of thousands of Haitian children, known by the Creole term "restaveks," who are forced into involuntary servitude both in Haiti and in the U.S. UNICEF has estimated that up to 17,500 such people are brought to the U.S. each year to become slaves.

Testimony showed Celestin got virtually no schooling, was frequently threatened and beaten, and was forced to sleep on the floor. Celestin testified that she thought about killing herself.

Saintfort Paulin, who was convicted only of the lesser charge of harboring an illegal alien without financial gain, was sentenced to 18 months' probation, including six months of house arrest. He told Gonzalez that he left the home in 2001 and that Celestin's treatment was his ex-wife's idea.

"I ended up going along willingly. I'm sorry for what transpired," said Saintfort Paulin, who now lives in New Jersey.

Sentencing was postponed for Theodore because she suffered a stroke shortly after the jury verdict and is incompetent for court proceedings, court papers show.

Gonzalez said Maude Paulin and her mother are liable for more than $162,000 in restitution to Celestin. They were convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin's 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for them and of harboring an alien for financial gain.

About two dozen of Maude Paulin's friends and relatives jammed the courtroom for the hearing, where she was seeking a lenient sentence, possibly even probation. Daughter Erica Paulin said her mother was generous and caring, especially for the plight of children in poverty-plagued Haiti.

"My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people," Erica Paulin said. "She is not a monster."

But Chung said the defendant simply won't admit she did something wrong.

"Maude Paulin does not to this day acknowledge that she committed this crime," Chung said.

Maude Paulin, who taught middle school in Miami-Dade County, will be forced to surrender her Florida teaching certificate. Partly because of her mother's illness, Gonzalez agreed to allow her to remain free until July 30.