Cicero woman who admitted to trafficking of Guatemalan immigrants suffers chest pains at sentencing

Authorities said they found 19 adults and 14 children living in Concepcion Malinek’s Cicero home in March 2019. Prosecutors said she would offer to help immigrants travel to the United States for about $5,000, only to claim they owed her a much higher debt when they arrived.

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

Manny Ramos / Sun-Times

The sentencing of a Cicero woman for labor trafficking two years after authorities found 19 adults and 14 children living in her home was interrupted Tuesday when the woman began suffering chest pains at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to send Concepcion Malinek, 51, to prison for eight years for what they’ve called “a long-term, cruel, and criminal plan to trap and exploit human beings.” They said Malinek would offer to help Guatemalans travel to the United States for about $5,000, only to claim they owed her a much higher debt when they arrived.

To pay off the debt, prosecutors said Malinek would force the immigrants to work in a local factory and turn over the bulk of their paychecks to her.

Defense attorneys argue that the immigrants sought help from Malinek, who then arranged for their travel to the Chicago area and who provided clothing, bedding, toiletries and cellphones, all at her own expense.

Malinek pleaded guilty to labor trafficking in July and admitted that she helped several people enter the United States for a fee between 2009 and 2019, only to then claim additional debts and demand payment while threatening deportation.

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Concepcion Malinek

Law enforcement mug shot

Prosecutors say most of Malinek’s victims were crammed into her basement — that’s where they said 22 of the people found in the home had been living in March 2019. The feds also say the conditions there were “deplorable” and included mold, cockroaches and backed-up sewage.

Malinek’s defense attorneys have said in court filings that Malinek arrived in the United States from Guatemala roughly 20 years ago. She was sent to Milwaukee by a Guatemalan convent she agreed to join as a teenager to get away from an alcoholic and abusive father. She then moved to Chicago to find work and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2018.

During the first two hours of Malinek’s sentencing hearing Tuesday in the 21st-floor courtroom of U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang, the judge heard from four of Malinek’s victims by phone and video. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente also read the written statements of two additional victims to the judge.

Meanwhile, Malinek sat at the defense table wearing a green jail jumpsuit, a blue mask and glasses. She revealed little reaction as the victims told the judge that Malinek had threatened them and forced as many as 43 of them to share two bathrooms and two kitchens, would not let children go outside and called the immigrants “useless people.”

Prosecutors have said that a 2-year-old boy accidentally scalded his head with hot tea in Malinek’s home, and they’ve alleged that Malinek threatened the boy’s parents with deportation if they sought medical help. Malinek denied it through her lawyer Tuesday, but one victim told the judge that, after her son burned his head, Malinek warned her the boy “would be taken away” and she would be deported if she took him to a clinic.

“We just wanted to leave as soon as possible from Ms. Malinek’s house,” the mother said.

It wasn’t until later —when Parente began to read a third written statement from a victim —that Malinek’s face turned red, and it appeared she had begun to cry at the defense table. The judge called a short recess, but Malinek appeared to have trouble even returning to the courtroom lock-up.

Nearly an hour later, Chang announced that Malinek had suffered chest pains, and an evaluation led to the conclusion that “she did experience sufficient medical issues” that the sentencing had to be adjourned. He said it would be rescheduled.

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