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.
BY NATALIE P. McNEAL
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.