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U.S. couple accused of enslaving two South Korean children

By Reuters/Sebastien Malo   June 3, 2016 | 12:24 am PT
An indictment against a New York couple accused of treating two immigrant children living in their home like their personal slaves "read like a frightening childhood fairy tale", the defense attorney said.

New York prosecutors have charged Sook Yeong Park, 49, and her husband Jeong Taek Lee, 53, with labor trafficking and endangering the welfare of a child, among a slew of other charges.

After taking the children into their homes from South Korea in 2010 at the request of their parents, Park and Lee forced them, over six years, to work as domestic servants for them and turn over earnings from outside jobs, according to the 61-count indictment seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The names of the children in the case, a sister and brother who were 8 and 11 when they first moved in with the couple, were blacked out.

The charges rang like a fairy tale, said Dennis Ring, the couple's defense attorney, "because they are just that - a fairy tale."

"It did not happen ... the allegations will be exposed as pure fiction," he added in an email interview on Thursday.

The couple is further accused of pocketing more than $100,000 which the children's parents wired from South Korea to cover their needs.

They confiscated the siblings' passports shortly after their arrival, according to the indictment, and forced them to sleep on the floor without a mattress.

Charges also refer to instances of the brother and sister being beaten and touched on "sexual or other intimate parts."

"The allegations in this case are extremely disturbing," said Richard A. Brown, the district attorney of Queens County, in New York City. "And even more upsetting considering the young ages of the alleged victims."

Police intervened after the young siblings told school officials about physical abuse, said the district attorney's office.

Defendants Park and Lee were arraigned earlier this week in a New York state court. Both remained in custody after failing to post bail, according to the New York City Department of Correction's website.

If convicted, they each face a maximum of 15 years in prison, according to the district attorney's office.

There is a lack of data on the total number of trafficking victims in the United States, said Brandon Bouchard, a spokesman for the Washington-based Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking group.

But the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a Polaris program, identified more than 11,500 victims last year, he said. 

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