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Feds find 19 adults, 14 children held in Cicero home; woman faces labor charges

Federal authorities say they found 19 adults and 14 children in a Cicero home during an early morning raid Tuesday, following allegations that Guatemalan citizens were being held in the basement there and forced to work. | Manny Ramos / Sun-Times

Federal authorities say they found 19 adults and 14 children in a Cicero home during an early morning raid Tuesday, following allegations that Guatemalan citizens were being held in the basement there and forced to work.

Now the woman who allegedly kept them there, Concepcion Malinek, faces forced labor charges outlined in a 12-page criminal complaint. The feds spoke to four of the alleged captives in recent days, according to the document.

Malinek, 49, of the 3100 block of South 53rd Court in Cicero, allegedly helped the immigrants cross into the United States in 2018 and 2019, either through the use of her name and address or by paying airfare. Then, she told them they owed her thousands of dollars for her assistance and helped them find employment in a Romeoville factory, delivering them to work in a white passenger van.

Concepcion Malinek | Law enforcement mug shot
Concepcion Malinek | Law enforcement mug shot

The feds say the immigrants handed over large portions of their paychecks to Malinek, who purportedly used the money to pay various expenses. For example, one alleged victim said he made $1,956 a month at the factory and gave Malinek $974 per month. She put $200 toward his debt, $424 toward “bills,” $200 toward the cost of transporting the workers to their jobs, and $35 toward a phone.

The allegations all came to light after a coworker of one of the victims reached out to the FBI, according to the complaint. Malinek is being held at the Kendall County jail and is expected in court Thursday, records show.

Law enforcement officials were still working Tuesday to verify the immigration status of the victims, according to the complaint.

One victim, who lived in the house with his 15-year-old daughter, said he knew Malinek from working construction at a hotel she owned in Guatemala. He said she told him he owed her $18,000 for letting him use her name and residence on his immigration paperwork.

Though he said his daughter was allowed to live on the first floor of the residence, he said no one was allowed to leave the basement without Malinek’s permission. And his daughter was allowed to visit him in the basement “only for limited periods of time.”

Another victim said Malinek charged him $7,000 to get him into the United States after he had been detained with his 12-year-old son. After he arrived at the Cicero home, Malinek allegedly arranged for his wife and second child to join him for $30,000.

Federal authorities say they found 19 adults and 14 children in a Cicero home during an early morning raid Tuesday, following allegations that Guatemalan citizens were being held in the basement there and forced to work. | Manny Ramos / Sun-Times
Federal authorities say they found 19 adults and 14 children in a Cicero home during an early morning raid Tuesday, following allegations that Guatemalan citizens were being held in the basement there and forced to work. | Manny Ramos / Sun-Times

He said he wound up living with his wife, 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter in the woman’s basement.

Malinek allegedly kept track of the immigrants’ debt in a ledger, which the feds said they found in her bedroom. They said it was filled with the signatures of the victims, as well as “contract type language regarding the debts owed to Malinek.”

For one of the victims, the ledger also included a sentence that read, “you are free to leave or stay after the debt has been paid.”

Malinek allegedly told one victim that, “immigration knows how many people live in this house, you guys are poor and I have all the money.” She also allegedly challenged her victims to call immigration officials, saying, “they already know you are here, so go ahead and call them.”

Finally, the victims said Malinek had posted “rules” on the door going from the basement to the upstairs. One said the basement had to be cleaned before everyone left for work. Otherwise, they would have to pay a fine.

It also allegedly included a schedule for cleaning the home, assigning all of the victims to a different cleaning shift.

The victims were not compensated for that work, according to the feds.

Guadalupe Ramos, 45, who has lived across the street from the house that was raided for three years, says the people who lived there had been quiet and kept to themselves.

“I was confused when all the activity [was] happening early in the morning” Tuesday, Ramos said. “I just saw a line of kids being escorted out of the house. It was right before school was going to start.”

Ramos said she saw about three women walking kids to school every morning.

She worries about what will happen to the kids and whether they will be separated from their families because of their immigration status.

Another neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous, described Malinek as running a tight schedule. She would be the first at 5 a.m. to come out of the house, look around and signal it was OK to leave the house, the neighbor said. Then a large group of people would run to the van, and she would drive off. She would repeat this at 1:30 p.m. and then again at 10 p.m. every day, according to the neighbor.

“They would sometimes have these huge parties,” the neighbor said, “but otherwise you wouldn’t notice them.”

Contributing: Manny Ramos