African Woman Enslaved for Years in Georgia

ATLANTA (CN) - An American couple enslaved an African woman for two years after luring her here with an offer of a two-week job catering, the woman from Swaziland claims in court.

Thembi Dlamini sued Juna Babb and her husband Michael Babb in Federal Court.  She claims the Babbs seized her passport when she arrived in Atlanta and forced her to work for two years for nothing.  According to the federal lawsuit, Juna Babb told Dlamini, 37, an aspiring cook, that she needed a caterer for her son's wedding in the United States. Dlamini says a mutual acquaintance told her the Babbs were ministers in America.

"Ms. Babb told plaintiff that defendants were looking to provide African people with positive opportunities and that it would be an especially good opportunity for plaintiff to come to the United States to work for defendants, because she could earn money to provide to her family," Dlamini states in her complaint.

But Babb stole her passport and her return ticket and told her there never was a wedding, that it was just a trick to get her to work for the Babbs, according to the complaint.  Dlamini claims says the Babbs kept her in their basement and told her not to leave the house because it was dangerous. Juna Babb told her she could not contact her family without tipping off the police, who would arrest and deport her, according to the complaint.

"In addition to forcing plaintiff to take care of their grandson every day, defendants ordered plaintiff to clean their home, cook their meals, and perform outdoor manual labor at their home, including digging soil, pulling weeds, and planting vegetables and flowers," the complaint states.

Dlamini says she also was forced to clean other houses and work for Michael Babb's construction company: "This work included cleaning, removing and installing carpet, removing and installing tiles, painting, and moving furniture and other heavy objects."

Dlamini claims she received little or no pay for her work, though the Babbs were paid for the work she did.  Dlamini claims her enslavement lasted for two years, until a couple for whom she worked at the behest of the Babbs were made aware of her situation and helped her escape.

Dlamini claims the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated the Babbs, who were sentenced to prison after being convicted of forced labor.  A judge ordered the Babbs to pay $25,000 in restitution to Dlamini, but she says in the lawsuit that she's seen only a fraction of that amount.

"Plaintiff is a 37-year old citizen of Mbabane, Swaziland," the complaint states. "She currently resides in Decatur, Georgia, under a 'T Visa,' which is a type of visa reserved for victims of human trafficking. Plaintiff's application for a permanent T-Visa was approved on October 12, 2012.

The lawsuit continues: "Defendant Juna G. Babb is a citizen of Georgia. At all times relevant to this complaint, Ms. Babb resided in Ellenwood, Georgia, with her husband, defendant Michael J. Babb. Upon information and belief, Ms. Babb (Inmate No. 61545-019) currently is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution ('FCI') in Marianna, Florida, wherein she is serving a 24-month sentence for actions upon which this complaint is based. Upon information and belief, Ms. Babb's projected release date from federal custody is January 6, 2014.

"Defendant Michael J. Babb is a citizen of Georgia. At all times relevant to this complaint, Mr. Babb resided in Ellenwood, Georgia, with his wife, Ms. Babb. Upon information and belief, Mr. Babb was an inmate (Inmate No. 61546-019) at McRae Correctional Institution in McRae, Georgia, wherein he served a 6-month sentence for actions upon which this complaint is based. Upon information and belief, Mr. Babb was released from federal custody on October 2, 2012. Upon information and belief, Mr. Babb currently resides in McDonough, Georgia."

Dlamini seeks compensatory and punitive damages for enticement into slavery, involuntary servitude, forced labor and human trafficking.  She is represented by Audra Dial of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton. 

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