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Child tells US court in Detroit he was slave labor

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2013 at 3:35 pm •  Published: March 25, 2013

DETROIT (AP) — Some of the children were only in middle school when a former tennis pro from Africa faked immigration papers and brought them to Michigan, where he forced them to cook and clean while starving and beating them with toilet plungers, broomsticks and electrical cords.

Jean-Claude Toviave presented the children as his own, but authorities and the victims' statements described them as little more than slaves with little chance to escape in a foreign country.

"I prayed at night that God would either help me to be free or allow your assaults to kill me," one boy, now in high school, wrote in a victim impact statement. "The pain is something I will never forget. In the midst of your verbal and physical assaults, you worked the four of us to death."

Toviave, 44, was sentenced Monday to more than 11 years in federal prison after a jury convicted him in October on four counts of forced labor. He previously pleaded guilty to fraud and misuse of visas, mail fraud and harboring aliens.

In a court filing, prosecutors said the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Toviave brought the four children from Togo in 2006 and forced them to work in his home in Ypsilanti, near Ann Arbor, for nearly five years until January 2011. Toviave, who was a tennis pro in Togo until 1990, presented the children as his own and enrolled some of them in middle school when they arrived. They now range in age from teenagers to young adults.

The children told authorities that Toviave made them vacuum, iron, cook, clean and shine shoes. If they didn't follow his orders, he beat them or denied them food.

The boy who is now in high school said he has permanent damage to his vision and persistent headaches after Toviave kicked him and punched him in the face. But he also said he plays several sports at school, is president of the student council and wants to study medicine.

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