A Florida teacher was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for slavery. According to testimony in a Fort Lauderdale court, Maude Paulin forced a Haitian girl to work without pay seven days per week for more than seven years.
While many employers including Target, Wal-mart, Starbucks, Walgreens and others have reached settlements involving minimum wage violations, few come close to the level of abuse in this case.
The prosecution showed that while Paulin was a respected middle-school teacher by day, by night she kept a young teen – the same age as her students—in primitive conditions, forcing the girl to work long hours and sleep on the floor. Still, the employer maintains that she wants only good things for the worker.
The 52-year old teacher apologized and admitted that she made mistakes in bringing Simone Celestine to the US to live and work.
“I love Simone with all my heart,” Paulin told Senior U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. at a sentencing hearing. “I regret it. I blame myself.”
Paulin’s ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, who is elderly and ill, was sentenced to house arrest for a lesser role.
The sentence imposed by Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. on Maude Paulin was at the low end of federal guidelines but is still higher than prison terms in many similar cases.
Prosecutor Edward Chung of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division said a stiff sentence was important to deter others. “This is an extremely serious crime,” Chung said.
Maude Paulin was aided in the crime by her 74-year-old mother, Evelyn Theodore, as well as her husband. According to the investigation, Celestin was a 14-year-old orphan who was brought from Haiti to the US in 1999. Instead of adopting the girl, the Paulin forced her to work 15 hours per day, seven days per week. In 2005, Celestin escaped from the Paulin home and alerted authorities.
According to prosecutors, Celestin is one of thousands of Haitian children, known by the Creole term “restaveks,” who are forced into involuntary servitude both in Haiti and in the U.S. UNICEF has estimated that up to 17,500 such workers are brought to the U.S. each year to become slaves.
Testimony showed that Celestin got virtually no schooling, was frequently threatened and beaten, and was forced to sleep on the floor. Celestin testified that she thought about killing herself frequently during the ordeal.
Saintfort Paulin, who was convicted only of harboring an illegal alien without financial gain, was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, including six months of house arrest. He told Gonzalez that he left the home in 2001 and that Celestin’s treatment was his ex-wife’s idea.
“I ended up going along willingly. I’m sorry for what transpired,” said Saintfort Paulin, who now lives in New Jersey.
Sentencing was postponed for Theodore because she suffered a stroke shortly after the jury verdict and is incompetent for court proceedings, court papers show.
The Florida minimum wage is currently $6.79 per hour, although for most of the time that Celestin was enslaved, it was $5.15 per hour. Even if Celestin was only paid that rate for 8 hours per day, she would be entitled to back pay for 20,384 hours, or more than $104,977. And that’s not counting overtime.
Judge Gonzalez said Maude Paulin and her mother are liable for more than $162,000 in restitution to Celestin. They were convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin’s 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for them and of harboring an alien for financial gain.
About two dozen of Maude Paulin’s friends and relatives jammed the courtroom for the hearing, where she was seeking a lenient sentence, possibly even probation. Daughter Erica Paulin said her mother was generous and caring, especially for the plight of children in poverty-plagued Haiti.
Despite Paulin’s heinous acts, her daughter persists in seeing it as kindness. “My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people,” Erica Paulin said. “She is not a monster.”
But Prosecutor Chung sees it differently, saying the defendant simply won’t admit that she did something wrong. “Maude Paulin does not to this day acknowledge that she committed this crime,” Chung said.
Maude Paulin, who taught middle school in Miami-Dade County, will be forced to surrender her Florida teaching certificate. Partly because of her mother’s illness, Gonzalez agreed to allow her to remain free until July 30.
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