Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Slavery: Disabled woman and her child, held against their will and forced to perform manual labor

U.S. Attorney’s Office 
Northern District of Ohio

Three Ashland residents held a cognitively disabled woman and her child against her will for more than two years and forced her perform manual labor for them, law enforcement officials said.

The conspiracy included beating the disabled woman and her child, threatening the woman with a firearm, threatening to kill the woman and her child, threatening the woman and her child with large snakes, forcing them to sleep in a padlocked room with a large iguana, and other actions, according to charges filed in U.S. District Court.

Jordie L. Callahan, 26; Jessica L. Hunt, 31; and Daniel J. Brown, aka D.J. Brown, 33, were all arrested today and charged with forced labor. Callahan is charged with an additional count of tampering with a witness.

“These defendants violated the victim’s most basic civil right, freedom, by exploiting her most basic instinct, the protection of her child,” said Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland Office. “The FBI continues to aggressively pursue and bring to justice those individuals who abuse and harm innocent members of our community.”

“We are yet again reminded that modern-day slavery exists all around us,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “One of our nation’s core values is freedom, yet this woman and her child were denied freedom for two years. The victims in this case endured violence, threats, sub-human living conditions, and other horrific acts.”

“The streets are a lot safer with these folks locked up,” Ashland Police Chief David Marcelli said. “Cooperation with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office was key to the successful arrest of these individuals.”

Ashland County Prosecutor Ramona Rogers said, “We are pleased to cooperate with federal authorities, particularly when it provides for a more severe punishment for these defendants.”

All three are accused of participating in a conspiracy between May 2011 and October 2012 in which they held a woman and her juvenile child in a condition of forced labor and involuntary servitude.

An affidavit from FBI Special Agent Michael Sirohman was filed along with the charges.

The victims in this case are identified only as S.E. and her juvenile child. S.E. suffered from a cognitive disability and received monthly public assistance payments, according to the affidavit.

Callahan and Hunt recruited S.E. and her child to live with them in their two-bedroom apartment in Ashland. Hunt’s four juvenile sons also lived at the house, along with numerous pit bull dogs, large snakes, and other reptiles, according to the affidavit.

Callahan and Hunt monitored S.E. and her child’s activities with a baby monitor, according to the affidavit.

Hunt was in possession of all of S.E.’s government benefits cards and the PINs. Hunt normally used nearly all the money on the cards and rarely gave any money to S.E., according to the affidavit.

Callahan and Hunt forced S.E. to clean the house, do laundry, walk to the store to do their shopping, and care for their numerous pit bulls and reptiles. S.E. was timed when she went to the store and was not allowed to bring her child with her, according to the affidavit.

Callahan and Hunt beat S.E. and her child, threatened their lives, denied them food, and threatened them with the pit bulls and reptiles, according to the affidavit.

At various points, Callahan threated S.E. with a gun. S.E. and her child initially were forced to sleep on a cement floor in the basement with no mattress. Later, they were moved to a room upstairs, again with no bed or mattress. The child was kept in the room all day, and at night the room was padlocked to keep S.E. and her child from escaping, according to the affidavit.

S.E. and her child were only allowed to eat canned food or what was left over after Callahan, Hunt, and Hunt’s children ate. S.E. was not allowed to feed fruit or vegetables to her child, but Callahan and Hunt ordered S.E. to feed fruit and vegetables to the iguana that freely roamed in their bedroom. On another occasion, S.E. said her child had not eaten all day, but Callahan got a plate of food and gave it to a dog rather than letting them eat, according to the affidavit.

Callahan and Hunt also repeatedly taunted and threatened S.E. and B.E. with injury from the couple’s snakes, including a poisonous coral snake, a ball phython, and a Burmese python that weighed 130 pounds, according to the affidavit.

In August 2011, the conspirators slammed S.E.’s hand with a rock in order to obtain pain medication. She was taken to the emergency room and returned with a prescription for pain medication, according to the affidavit.

In December 2011, Callahan and Hunt injured S.E.’s back and then forced her to turn over the prescription for Vicodin she received for her back injury, according to the affidavit.

On another occasion, Callahan kicked S.E. in the hip, and then he and Hunt forced turn over the prescription for Vicodin she received for her hip injury, according to the affidavit.

When S.E. attempted to flee the apartment, Brown deceived S.E. into accompanying them in their vehicle and returned her to Callahan and Hunt’s apartment, according to the affidavit.

In October 2011, Callahan and Hunt forced S.E. to hit her child, threatening to inflict much greater physical harm on both if S.E. did not do so. Callahan and Hunt used Callahan’s mobile phone to record S.E. purportedly abusing her child via the baby monitor.

About a year later, S.E. was arrested for shoplifting a candy bar. She asked to be taken to jail and said she was living with Callahan and Hunt and that they “were mean to her,” according to the affidavit.

A police officer went to Callahan and Hunt’s apartment. When the officer advised Callahan that S.E. would not return, Callahan told police he believed S.E. was abusing her child and showed them the mobile phone video from October 2011.

S.E. later told police that Callahan had showed her video recordings of her beating her child after being instructed to do so by Callahan and Hunt. Callahan told S.E. that if she “messed up” or told police about her living conditions, Callahan would show the videos to police and have her daughter taken away, according to the affidavit.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Chelsea Rice and Thomas E. Getz, following an investigation by the FBI and Ashland Police Department and assistance from the Ashland County Prosecutor’s Office.

If convicted, the defendants’ sentences will be determined by the court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record (if any), the defendant’s role in the offenses, and the characteristics of the violations. In all cases, the sentences will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases they will be less than the maximum.

A charge is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.