On June 6, 2017, a federal jury in Camden, New Jersey, convicted defendants Michael Wood, 53, and Mary Wood, 45, of Mullica Hill, New Jersey, on charges arising from a scheme to smuggle a young Kenyan woman into the United States and harbor and exploit her for domestic labor in their New Jersey home. Both defendants were convicted of alien harboring for financial gain and conspiracy. Mary Wood was also convicted of fraudulently obtaining naturalization as a United States citizen by falsely denying involvement in the criminal scheme, and was acquitted on one count of making false statements in connection with the investigation. Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Special Agent in Charge Marlon V. Miller of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia, announced the convictions.
According to evidence presented in court and other documents filed in connection with this case, the defendants traveled to Kenya and recruited a young woman, identified as P.I. in court documents, to care for their four minor children in New Jersey. In August 2005, Michael Wood provided P.I. with his adult daughter’s British Passport and directed her to memorize the information and pretend to be the daughter. Upon entering the United States, Michael Wood presented the British Passport to immigration authorities and represented P.I. as his daughter.
Once in New Jersey, the defendants required P.I. to clean the house, do the laundry, cook, and care for the four minor children. She was responsible for being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for which the defendants paid her a mere $200 a month. Evidence at trial revealed that the defendants would have been required to pay her approximately $5,200 a month pursuant to applicable U.S. labor laws. As demonstrated at trial, in order to conceal P.I. from authorities, the defendants did not permit her to leave the house except to walk the children to school and instructed her not to talk to anyone outside of the house or family. In June 2006, Mary Wood’s sister and other family members moved P.I. to their homes, where they continued to harbor her and exploit her domestic labor, until P.I. managed to leave in 2011, prompting the subsequent federal investigation.
“The defendants acted out of greed and circumvented immigration law to exploit the domestic labor of a young Kenyan woman, for minimal pay,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wheeler. “Today’s verdict sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will continue to seek justice on behalf of vulnerable individuals and will hold defendants who violate our laws accountable for their crimes.”
“HSI special agents will continue to vigorously pursue those who think the law does not apply to their criminal acts,” said Special Agent in Charge Miller. “We are resolute in our efforts to hold accountable the perpetrators who attempt to circumvent United States law by participating in alien harboring and domestic labor exploitation schemes. This verdict underscores the necessity of the public's awareness of these schemes and importance to bring justice to the victims."
The defendants face a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment for alien harboring for financial gain and conspiracy, and Mary Wood faces ten years’ imprisonment for naturalization fraud. Sentencing has been scheduled for September 7, 2017.
Six additional defendants, including members of Mary Wood’s family, who continued to harbor P.I. from 2006 to 2011 previously pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to charges related to their roles in the continuing scheme.
The case was investigated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia, and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Anita Channapati and Shan Patel of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.