Two years after authorities discovered 19 adults and 14 children living in squalor in her Cicero home, Concepcion Malinek explained in a long, tearful statement to a federal judge Monday how she came to make her “great mistake.”
Having grown up in poverty in Guatemala only to join a convent and later move to the United States, Malinek said she lost her way by “acquiescing to people that asked me for a favor” — and by helping too many immigrants try to find a better life in the United States.
But prosecutors say Malinek really put the immigrants living in her Cicero home under her thumb, where they worked endlessly to pay off insurmountable debts while largely crammed into her basement. And Monday, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang rejected Malinek’s explanation, handing her a 6 ½-year prison sentence for forced labor.
“It is impossible to say that the motive was simply to help others establish a life here,” Chang said.
The judge’s ruling ended a sentencing hearing that began last month but was interrupted when Malinek began to suffer chest pains in the middle of the hearing. Her defense attorney, Robert Rascia, explained Monday that she became “overwhelmed” that day while listening to her victims explain the harm she caused them.
Her defense team had argued the immigrants sought Malinek out, and that she arranged for their travel while also providing clothing, bedding, toiletries and cellphones, all at her own expense. Malinek pleaded guilty to labor trafficking last July, admitting she helped several people enter the United States for a fee between 2009 and 2019.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente accused Malinek in court papers of a “long-term, cruel, and criminal plan to trap and exploit human beings.” He wrote that 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, Parente said Malinek would force the immigrants to work in a local factory and turn over the bulk of their paychecks to her.
He wrote that most of Malinek’s victims were crammed into her basement. That’s where authorities said 22 of the 33 people they found in the home in March 2019 had been living. They also said the conditions there were “deplorable” and included mold, cockroaches and backed-up sewage.
Chang noted Monday that Malinek’s victims said she “ruled the household like a tyrant.” And he said that, when one man could not pay the rent he owed her, Malinek “prohibited him from using the bathroom unless he paid.” The man ultimately had to borrow money to do so.
Finally, the judge pointed to one incident in which a 2-year-old boy severely burned his head with a cup of hot water in Malinek’s home. Last month, the boy’s mother said that Malinek had warned her the boy “would be taken away” and she would be deported if she took him to a clinic for medical care.
“That is a cruel threat to level against any parent,” Chang said.