A federal jury in Greenbelt is expected to rule soon in the case of a Takoma Park couple charged with bringing a Ghanaian woman into the country and using her as a slave.
Barbara Coleman-Blackwell, 33, is charged with offenses related to using Margaret Owusuwaah as an unpaid domestic servant from February 2000 to July 2001.
The charges include conspiring to induce an illegal alien to come to the United States, harboring an illegal alien, harboring an alien for financial gain, forced labor, confiscating an alien’s passport and visa, making a false statement to U.S. officials, and visa fraud.
Her husband, Kenneth Blackwell, 37, is charged with harboring an illegal alien, harboring an alien for financial gain, and recruiting an illegal alien to come to and remain in the United States.
If convicted, Mrs. Coleman-Blackwell faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and Mr. Blackwell, 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Testimony in their trial, which began May 20, ended Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, and a jury began deliberations yesterday.
Prosecutors said Mrs. Coleman-Blackwell lured Mrs. Owusuwaah, 44, to the United States, then forced her into a slavelike existence in the couple’s home.
Mrs. Owusuwaah testified that she was supposed to have received $150 a week to take care of the couple’s daughter but was forced to clean, cook and do yardwork day and night without pay.
“Well, you know how they” forced her to stay and work, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daphene McFerren. “They did it through threats, and they did it through isolating her.”
Mrs. Coleman-Blackwell’s mother, Grace Coleman, is Mrs. Owusuwaah’s cousin and a former deputy finance minister in Ghana.
According to prosecutors, Mrs. Coleman-Blackwell maintained control of Mrs. Owusuwaah by calling Mrs. Coleman in Ghana, then threatening to deport and imprison the woman.
The federal government is trying to have Mrs. Coleman extradited from the West African nation.
Mrs. Coleman-Blackwell arranged for Mrs. Owusuwaah to perform domestic jobs for friends, only to take most of the money she earned, prosecutors said. Mrs. Owusuwaah, who ran away from the couple in July 2001, was also discouraged from studying English so that she would remain reliant on the couple, prosecutors said.
Defense attorneys described Mrs. Owusuwaah as a conniving woman doing all she could to stay in the United States. They said she testified to gain political asylum, that the Colemans offered her a place to stay in the United States and that there was never any discussion about paying her.
David Schertler, Mr. Blackwell’s attorney, told jurors that the trial resulted from a family misunderstanding.
“This case is about a family affair and nothing more,” Mr. Schertler said. As in many families, it “starts out in a warm and helpful way … and it evolves into a family dispute.”