Girl forced into servitude recounts her story in court; Irvine captors get prison terms.:
By GREG HARDESTY//The Orange County Register
When authorities found her, the 12-year-old girl was shabbily dressed with reddish hands caked with dead, hard-looking skin - the result of being forced to work as a domestic servant for a large Irvine family.
Monday, at the culmination of Orange County's first federal prosecution of a human-trafficking case, the girl, now 17 and in a caring home, told a judge how she lost nearly two years of her childhood.
"Where was their love when it came to me?" the teen said, sobbing. "I was a human being, too."
Just a few feet away, the couple who treated her like an outcast in their new home in a gated community, forcing her to care for their five children and do housework for no pay, somberly awaited sentencing.
"What they did to me will scar me for the rest of my life," said the girl, Shyima. The Register is identifying her only by her first name at the request of her foster parents. "They treated me like nothing."
At the end of the emotional, two-hour hearing in Santa Ana, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna sentenced the pair to prison and ordered them to pay the girl more than $152,000 in restitution - the amount, plus penalties, that prosecutors calculated she would have made working seven days a week for 20 months.
After expressing remorse through an Arabic translator, Abdel Nasser Youssef Ibrahim, 45, was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
His former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-Abd El Motelib, 43, who also apologized to the court for her treatment of the girl, was sentenced to 22 months.
"What happened was due to my ignorance of the law," Motelib told the judge.
In a plea deal with prosecutors, she and Ibrahim pleaded guilty to four felonies, including conspiracy and holding a person in involuntary service through force, for keeping the girl in their home against her will from August 2000 to April 2002.
Ibrahim was ordered to surrender to authorities on Oct. 30, and Motelib on Nov. 13, but agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took them into custody immediately after sentencing for deportation proceedings. Both will be deported to Egypt after they serve their sentences, said William J. Hayes, a special agent with ICE in Santa Ana.
"I hope this brave and courageous child encourages others who may be in similar situations to come forward," Hayes said outside court.
Shyima, who comes from an impoverished family, began working in the couple's home in Egypt when she was 9.
According to court documents, the couple caught her sister - also employed in their home - stealing.
They threatened to turn her over to authorities unless Shyima came with them to the United States as their domestic servant. They struck a deal with her parents, essentially leasing her for $30 a month for a planned 10 years.
What transpired in Irvine was a modern-day saga of child slavery, according to court documents and an interview with Shyima.
Shyima was not allowed to go to school and was refused visits to the doctor.
She was relegated to a 12-by-8-foot converted room in the garage and forced to sleep on a dirty, fold-up mattress. She had no dresser, no closet, no heating or ventilation and only a black widow spider for a companion.
Every morning, Shyima would wake up the three youngest children and dress them. She would make their breakfast and pack their lunches for school while Ibrahim and Motelib slept.
While the other children in the household went to school, played with friends and visited the mosque, Shyima was shunned. She was not allowed to eat with the family and was verbally abused. Family members called her "the Stupid Girl," among other names.
Shyima was forced to hand-wash her clothes separately, in a soapy bucket she kept by her mattress.
On at least one occasion, Ibrahim slapped her for disobeying, and Motelib slapped her at least twice.
They told her she would be arrested if she went outside alone.
One day, a neighbor saw her taking out the trash and asked her why she was not in school. An anonymous phone call tipped off authorities.
Defense lawyers argued that in Egypt it is customary to employ children as domestic help. Laws there prohibit employing children 12 and under.
Ibrahim and Motelib said in court papers that their conduct was motivated by a "well-intentioned, charitable desire to care for and support the children of an impoverished Egyptian family."
Two of their five children, both adults, have been deported to Egypt; the others, a 16-year-old girl and twin 12-year-old boys, are expected to be placed in the care of relatives in Southern California.
Shyima saw a counselor for more than year and says she is starting to move on. But she still feels anger at Ibrahim and Motelib.
Her foster parents, Jenny and Chuck Hall, 36, who are expecting to finalize adoption proceedings in December, say she is adjusting well. The Halls have three biological children and three foster children.
Shyima is a junior in high school.
She plays soccer and softball and is learning to play the guitar. She loves movies and hanging out at the mall. She plans to go to junior college and is thinking about becoming a police officer.
After Monday's sentencing, she and her parents strolled downtown Santa Ana.
They bought her a new black dress for a homecoming dance this Saturday.