A Fort Lauderdale federal jury recently sentenced a South Florida woman to seven years and three months in prison for keeping a teenage girl from Haiti in servitude for six years.
Maude Paulin, a 52-year old former school teacher from Miami-Dade County, was convicted in March along with her mother, Evelyn Theodore, of conspiring to enslave the girl, forcing her to work, and harboring an illegal immigrant.
Simone Celestin, who was living at a Haitian orphanage, was brought to the U.S. in 1999 at age 14 and escaped from the Paulin home in 2005.
During the trial, Simone Celestin, 22, testified she was brought to the United States from Haiti when she was 14 to be a maid in the Paulins' home in southwest Miami. Then she was forced to work 15 hours per day, seven days per week and sleep on the floor. When she failed to finish her long list of chores, Maude Paulin and Theodore would beat her with "anything handy," including shoes and kitchenware. In 2005, Celestin escaped from the home and alerted authorities.
Testimony showed that Celestin got virtually no schooling, was frequently threatened, and beaten. Celestin testified that she thought about killing herself frequently during the ordeal.
Maude Paulin admitted she had made mistakes in bringing Simone Celestin to the U.S. and apologized for what happened, but insisted she wanted only good things for the girl.
"I love Simone with all my heart," Paulin told Senior U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. at a sentencing hearing. "Unfortunately, I can't change what is already done… I regret it. I blame myself."
Paulin’s daughter Erica Paulin said "My mother is an inspiration to her friends and her family, to so many people. She is not a monster."
But Prosecutor Edward Chung of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division sees it differently, saying the defendant simply won’t admit that she did something wrong. "Maude Paulin does not to this day acknowledge that she committed this crime, " Chung said, "This was a middle school teacher placed in charge of this community's children. She was the one who committed this crime and she's the one who still to this day believes she's done nothing wrong." Chung also said Paulin had shown no remorse for "an extremely serious crime."
Paulin’s ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, was found guilty of harbouring an illegal immigrant and was sentenced to 18 months' probation, including six months of house arrest, and ordered to pay a fine of $500. He told Gonzalez that he left the home in 2001 and that Celestin's treatment was his ex-wife's idea. "I ended up going along willingly. I'm sorry for what transpired," said Saintfort Paulin, who now lives in New Jersey.
A sentencing hearing for Theodore was postponed because she suffered a stroke after her conviction,
The sentence received by Maude Paulin was at the lower end of federal guidelines, but is still higher than prison terms in many similar cases.
Prosecutors said Celestin is one of thousands of Haitian children, known by the Creole term "restaveks," who are forced into involuntary servitude both in Haiti and in the U.S. UNICEF has estimated that up to 17,500 such people are brought to the U.S. each year to become slaves.
Gonzalez said Maude Paulin and her mother are liable for more than $162,000 in restitution to Celestin. They were convicted of conspiring to violate Celestin's 13th Amendment rights to be free from slavery, of illegally forcing her to work for them, and of harboring an alien for financial gain.