(PHOTO) NIGERIAN Couple In US Get Prison, Hefty Fine For Nanny Abuse. A Nigerian couple in Pennsylvania has been sentenced to federal prison for sneaking a Nigerian woman into the country so she could basically become what a judge called “a slave.” John and Godever Ibechem were sentenced Thursday to serve nine months each. The Ibechems agreed to pay the woman $50,000 as part a plea deal.
The nanny “essentially became a slave,” according to U.S. District Court Judge Edward Smith. Nigerians are among the most educated, hardworking and successful foreigners wherever they live across the globe.
The Palmer Township couple acknowledged they plotted to smuggle the woman in to care for their two sons, ages 1 and 2, and didn’t pay her minimum wage. She was 54 when she posed as John Ibechem’s mother, who was actually dead, and used the mother’s passport to enter the U.S. unlawfully.
The nanny working for John and Godever Ibechem left Nigeria for a chance to provide financial support for her orphaned nephews. But her life in America did not live up to her expectations.
She said she was paid about $20 every other week to provide around-the-clock care for the Palmer Township couple’s two sons. She shared a small bedroom with the boys, who were ages 1 and 2, when she arrived in the United States in 2009.
She said she rarely slept and changed the children’s diapers while the parents slept. The older boy’s autism made him tough to care for, she said. She did the cooking and cleaning, too.
She suffered deteriorating health but couldn’t get care or leave the home because she feared the Ibechems would kill her family.
Each of the Ibechems was sentenced Thursday to nine months in federal prison. John Ibechem will start serving his time in 60 days. His wife will have custody of the boys until he’s released and then she’ll serve her nine months. The nanny “essentially became a slave,” according to U.S. District Court Judge Edward G. Smith. She was not in the courtroom and was identified only by her initials.
The judge could have tacked on more prison time for the Ibechems but determined the labor was not involuntarily coerced through threats. While the nanny feared retaliation against her family, authorities had no proof of any actual threats. One investigator described the nanny as “childlike” and unsophisticated.
She broke away from the Ibechems by soliciting the help of a neighbor to get to a safe house. But she had her own key to the Ibechem home and was free to go on walks around the neighborhood when she wanted.
Defense attorney Gilbert Scutti:
“I’m not going to say it was all roses when she was here, but we’re not talking about physical abuse, saxual abuse or deprivation of liberty,”
“I’m not one who would have somebody in my house and treat someone with indentured servitude. That’s not my nature. That’s not in my family’s nature.”
The nanny was 54 when she agreed to pose as Ibechem’s deceased mother and used her passport to enter the country illegally. The Ibechems admitted they conspired to smuggle her in and failed to pay her minimum wage. But they sent money to the nanny’s family in Nigeria, according to Scutti.
David Gorman, an agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the nanny was advised to take the deal to come to America because it was what God wanted her to do. She believed she would eventually become a legal citizen. Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Davison said the nanny has been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. pending the result of her case. It’s unclear whether she’ll be permitted to stay now that the case is over.
While she was free to leave the Ibechem home, she couldn’t drive and had no friends to go to for help. She had no reason to trust police given the corruption that was a part of her native culture, according to Davison.
“She had no life,” he said. “She was invisible and they knew it and they took advantage of it.”
Gorman said the last straw for the nanny came when her health deteriorated. She admits the Ibechems took her to doctors and even to a hospital, but they weren’t willing to seek the help the nanny felt she needed because she wasn’t insured and they feared her illegal status would be discovered.
She said she coughed up blood and suffered nosebleeds.
“At the end I had severe stomach pains, weight loss and blotches on my skin. I felt trapped. I thought I was going to die. I was heartbroken, terrified and alone”
The nanny said in her letter to the court that she was scolded by the Ibechems when she went to a doctor on her own. The doctor turned her away because she didn’t have “papers” she needed to be cared for, she said.
The Ibechems agreed to pay the nanny $50,000 in restitution as part of the plea deal. Prosecutors say the nanny was cheated out of about $205,000 in wages. John Ibechem, 60, has a master’s degree and moved to the U.S. when he was 20. Godever Ibechem, 45, has a bachelor’s degree and works as a nurse’s aide. Both were born in Nigeria.