A former tennis pro accused of fraudulently bringing four children from the African nation of Togo to the U.S. and forcing them to work as slaves in his Michigan home was sentenced Monday to more than 11 years in federal prison.
Jean-Claude Toviave, who didn’t apologize when provided the opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing in Detroit, also was ordered to pay two of the children $60,000 each.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow to sentence Toviave to the maximum sentence within the guidelines, and he did, handing down a 135-month sentence, with credit for about two years of time served.
“I can’t get a read on you,” Tarnow told Toviave. “I can’t tell if you understand what you did was really wrong.”
The four children emigrated from Togo in 2006 with fraudulent immigration paperwork that listed them as being Toviave’s biological children, which they are not.
The victims said Toviave beat them with toilet plungers, broomsticks and electrical cords and starved them if they didn’t follow his orders. They were forced to vacuum, iron, cook, clean and shine shoes at the home in Ypsilanti, near Ann Arbor, for nearly five years until January 2011.
Two of the victims were in the courtroom during sentencing, but declined to speak.
Victim statements were entered into the record, however, and one was read aloud by a representative.
“The physical torture, beating me and starving me, you inflicted was so painful that I prayed at night that God would either help me to be free or allow your assaults to kill me,” wrote the unnamed victim. “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.”
A jury convicted Toviave of four counts of forced labor in October. He previously pleaded guilty to fraud and misuse of visas, mail fraud and harboring aliens.
Defense lawyer Randall Roberts, who asked Tarnow to sentence his client to four years, said the judge’s sentence “was as tough as it comes.”