Pines Couple Charged with Enslaving Haitian Girl after Smuggling Her into U.S.
Ann W. O’Neill, Sun-Sentinel.com (FL), Mar. 24
A couple who allegedly forced a smuggled Haitian child into slavery in their upscale Pembroke Pines home has been indicted on a charge of harboring an alien, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Marie and Willy Pompee Sr. face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
The girl, referred to in the indictment as “W.K.,” was nicknamed “Little Hope” in South Florida’s Haitian community when her plight first became known five years ago.
Then 12, she claimed to have been beaten, raped, and forced to work as a maid and serve, since the age of 9, as a sex slave for the couple’s son, then 20.
Willy Pompee, then 43, and his son, Willy Jr., slipped out of South Florida shortly after police raided their house in September 1999. They are thought to be in Haiti.
But Marie Pompee remained in South Florida, and on Monday she stood before U.S. Magistrate Barry S. Seltzer in Fort Lauderdale. She was freed on bail and will return to court on Friday.
The case stunned South Florida and brought forth a wave of gifts and support from the Haitian community.
“The community was very shocked at the time that something like that could happen and no one would know about it,” said Marlene Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, an advocacy organization that works with Haitian women and their families. “The discussion was someone must have known something … and why wasn’t it reported?”
According to the indictment, the girl was smuggled from Haiti after her mother, who once worked there for the Pompees, died in 1996.
The case came to light when the girl befriended three employees of a Fort Lauderdale modeling school after responding to a television ad for the school. During daily calls, details of the girl’s life slowly emerged.
She said although she shared the house with the Pompees and their four children, she slept on the floor and was forced to clean the house from the moment she returned home from school until she went to bed. She said she was not allowed to have any personal possessions and was hardly fed. Then, as she held her abdomen in pain, details of the alleged sexual abuse came out.
The women, skeptical at first, believed the girl’s story and bought school supplies for her.
After they spoke to a teacher, police were called and the girl was taken from the Pompees’ home.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said human trafficking is a modern form of slavery. According to recent government estimates, as many as 20,000 people a year are brought into the United States for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Child slavery is an entrenched tradition in Haiti where, according to some estimates, there are as many as 300,000 child slaves, called restaveks. Restavek means “to stay with” in Creole, and children on the impoverished island sometimes are referred to as “animals.”
Willy Pompee was a well-known businessman in Hialeah, where he ran a business called “Willy’s Rags,” buying used clothing he resold in Haiti.
The girl’s whereabouts could not be determined.
Bastien was puzzled by the charge leveled at Willy and Marie Pompee, but relieved that prosecutors had taken action.
“At least it’s a beginning, better than inaction,” she said.
The case prompted an education effort within the Haitian community.
“There was a lot of education that was done for people to be more mindful of children and children’s rights,” Bastien said. “It is the law here to report if a child is being mistreated.”
A Haitian husband and wife are charged with concealing an alien after turning a young girl into a household slave at their former Pembroke Pines home.
Natalie P. McNeal, herald.com (Miami), Mar. 24
A federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale has indicted a former Pembroke Pines couple who allegedly smuggled a young girl from Haiti and used her as a household slave, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Tuesday.
Marie and Willie Pompee are charged with concealing an alien, which, upon conviction, can mean a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
The Pompees, originally from Haiti, allegedly harbored the young Haitian girl in their $400,000 Pembroke Pines home from the time she was 9. She came to the attention of school and law enforcement authorities in 1999, when she was 12.
Only Marie Pompee has been arrested. Willy Pompee and their son, Willy Jr., who is accused of molesting the girl, have fled to Haiti. Willy Jr. has an outstanding warrant for sexual assault.
The girl, whose mother had once worked as a maid for members of the Pompee family in Haiti, told authorities she was fed very little, forced to clean house, made to sleep on the floor and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her ”stepbrother,” Willy Pompee Jr. The girl also said she was called a ”slut” and ”whore,” and told she was ugly and stupid.
The courts alleged she lived the life of a restavec, a Creole word meaning ”to stay with” that describes a form of servitude forced on many poor Haitian children in exchange for room and board, and sometimes an education.
Marie Pompee’s attorney denies that his client ever endangered the girl, who is now in foster care.
”Ms. Pompee took care of that orphaned child,” said her attorney, Martin Roth of Miami.
“Should she have turned her in to immigration service? She chose to care for her, and as a result she has those charges.”
The Pompees had run a clothing business. Marie Pompee, who now lives in Miami, is being subsidized by family members.
Restavecs are young Haitians sent to live with wealthier people, often — but not always — relatives in Haiti. They tend to miss school and lack interaction with other children.
A 1998 shooting incident shed light on the phenomenon. A 12-year-old Haitian girl was killed when she was hit by a stray bullet while toiling at an Allapattah flea market, selling toys and electronics.
Investigators learned she lived with an unofficial guardian and hadn’t attended school in six months.
Authorities were tipped to the girl, dubbed Little Hope in the Haitian community, after she telephoned a modeling agency after seeing its television commercial.
The girl talked about her unusual living arrangement.
Workers at the agency called the Florida Department of Children & Families, and visited the girl’s school in Opa-locka, Florida International Academy.
The principal told police the girl was constantly late, never brought school supplies and had no appetite.
Days earlier, the principal said, the girl had come to school clutching her stomach in pain. She said her stepbrother kicked her in the stomach.
A physical exam later showed she was sexually active.
She was placed in state custody.
NO ABUSE CHARGES
Roth noted that the criminal charge, coming five years after authorities first intervened, did not involve actual abuse.
”None of the major charges was filed,” Roth said.
It is estimated that 18,000 to 20,000 people are brought into the United States each year for purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Herald staff writer Noah Bierman contributed to this article.