A couple from Guatemala illegally entered the United States last year with two girls they used as slaves in Aurora, federal officials say.
The older girl, now 17, worked as a roofer, in a factory and at a cleaning job, turning over all of her earnings to the couple, according to federal Department of Homeland Security officials.
Both girls also cleaned the couple’s home and took care of their baby, according to a federal criminal complaint that said the girls weren’t allowed to leave and that the younger one was abused.
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The couple, Santos Teodoro Ac-Salazar and Olga Choc Laj, have been charged in U.S. District Court in Chicago with forced labor. They were arraigned Friday in a court teleconference with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.
Police say Ac-Salazar admitted he struck the younger girl, now 11, with a belt and a cellphone charger cord, leaving bruises. A babysitter alerted the Aurora police, officials said.
On Sept. 14, Ac-Salazar pleaded guilty in Kane County circuit court to aggravated battery of a child under 13 and was sentenced to 227 days in jail, which, including time he’d already been held, he has now served, officials say. He also got 30 months of probation.
He’s now in the custody of immigration officials.
An aggravated battery charge is pending against Choc Laj, 31, who remains in the Kane County Jail in lieu of $200,000 bail.
Choc Laj told investigators she paid a smuggler to bring her and the older girl to the United States through El Paso, Texas, in February 2019, officials said.
They said the teen wanted to come to the United States and contacted a smuggler, who put her in touch with Choc Laj. The girl said she lived in Florida with Choc Laj, who forced her to work as a roofer and took all of the cash she was paid, according to authorities.
They said Choc Laj told the girl she needed to pay off their smuggler and also send money to Ac-Salazar in Guatemala so he could pay a smuggler to get him in to the country, too.
Choc Laj and the teenage girl then moved to Aurora. Ac-Salazar and the younger girl joined them in May 2019.
The teenage girl said the couple didn’t allow her to attend school. The younger girl started school in Aurora only after child-welfare workers visited their home and insisted, officials said.
Choc Laj had a baby in October 2019 and stopped working. The two girls said they fed and watched the infant and changed his diapers without any help from the couple, according to authorities.
The older girl said she was told she couldn’t leave the couple’s home until they paid off the debts for the couples’ smugglers, authorities said.
The two girls and Choc Laj’s baby were taken into protective custody by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in February.
Choc Laj told officers she brought the older girl with her to the United States so she could gain entry more easily, authorities said.
The couple told investigators the older girl was a cousin of Choc Laj and that Ac-Salazar adopted the younger girl in Guatemala. But the girls said they didn’t know the couple before they were smuggled into the United States, officials said.
The couple obtained fake documents to allow the older girl to work in the Chicago area, and Choc Laj also used phony documents to get across the border in El Paso, officials said.