An Upper Marlboro couple could face up to five years in prison for what prosecutors describe as 10 years of forced domestic servitude.
Alfred Edwards, 74, and Gloria Edwards, 61, both of the 6200 block of Richmanor Terrace, both pleaded guilty to one count of harboring an alien in May 2012. In addition to the prison sentence, they could be forced to pay the victim up to $350,000 in restitution for unpaid labor, along with a $250,000 fine. They will likely be sentenced in federal court May 7, according to Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
The couple originally faced charges of forced labor conspiracy, document servitude, conspiracy to harbor for financial gain and harboring a domestic worker for financial gain, but they were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Robert Bonsib, the couple’s defense attorney, said Thursday that he argued in an April 24 sentencing hearing that while the couple already pleaded guilty to harboring an undocumented immigrant, no “mistreatment” took place.
According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, the couple enticed the victim, a woman from the Philippines referred to in documents as “T.E.,” to come to the United States in 1999 to work as a domestic servant for the couple, promising to pay her so she could support her children back in her home country.
Federal prosecutors did not immediately return calls Thursday to determine how the couple enticed the victim or how they became aware of the case.
Prosecutors said upon arriving in the U.S. using a fraudulent visa provided by the couple, “T.E.’s” identifying papers were seized by the couple and they refused to pay her and forced her to sign a contract saying she would owe the couple $20,000 if she ever left, which she finally did in 2009, according to Murphy.
“The defendants harbored T.E. with the expectation that they would be paid in the form of receiving T.E.’s domestic labor, which would be provided to them for little to no cost,” prosecutors wrote in a court document.
Prosecutors said in the documents that the couple often threatened “T.E.” with that contract when she expressed a desire to leave.
Bonsib said he argued that “T.E.” was treated as a “full member of the family” during her stay with the couple.
“She went on family vacations, family cruises and went to Las Vegas with family members,” Bonsib said. “...She was afforded a fully-furnished basement apartment, with a queen-sized bed with a TV, full kitchen and bathroom, all for her use. Any allegations that she was mistreated we argued are without any support in the evidence.”
Bonsib declined to comment further about the case, as it was still pending before U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow.
The couple was not immediately available for comment Thursday.