Wednesday, August 18, 2010

West African immigrant gets 26 months in prison for role in N.J. human trafficking ring

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Joe Ryan/The Star-Ledger

A West African immigrant was sentenced to two years and two months in prison today for visa fraud in connection to a human-trafficking ring that smuggled girls and women into New Jersey to work at hair-braiding salons.

Geoffry Kouevi is the third defendant imprisoned in connection to the operation, which authorities say targeted victims from impoverished African villages, some just 10 years old. He stood shacked in green jail garb in federal court in Newark as Judge Jose L. Linares said his crime posed a threat to America’s system of safeguarding its ports of entry.

“It impacts the security of our borders when people violate our immigration laws,” Linares said.

Kouevi was convicted last year of conspiracy and visa fraud for helping coach the victims to pose as wives and children of lawful immigrants and forging documents used to bring them from Togo and Ghana.

Kouevi is a legal permanent resident of the United States and could face deportation after completing his sentence. He faced up to two-and-a-half years under federal sentencing guidelines.

The ring was run by Akouavi Kpade Afolabi, a once-prosperous jewelry and textile merchant from Togo. She was convicted last year and is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Authorities say she recruited more than 20 girls and young women from impoverished African villages with the promise of a better life in America.

But once the women arrived, Afolabi forced them to braid hair for up to 14 hours a day at salons in Newark and East Orange in a case investigators equated with modern-day slavery.

“But for the visa fraud there would have been no ability to smuggle these women,” said Shana W. Chen, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Afolabi’s ex-husband, Lassissi Afolabi, was sentenced last month to 24 years in prison for his role in the crime. Her son, Dereck Hounakey, was sentenced in June to 4½ years.

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