An Irvine man and his former wife pleaded guilty Thursday to forcing a 12-year-old illegal immigrant from Egypt to work as their domestic slave.
Under terms of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim, 45, and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, 43, each face up to three years in prison.
The girl, whose name was not released, was brought to the United States in 2000. Every morning she helped the couple’s youngest children get ready for school, washed clothes, cleaned the house and prepared food. Following up on an anonymous tip, police in 2002 found the girl living in squalor in a 12-by-8-foot converted area of the family’s garage.
Ibrahim and Motelib, who were married at the time and have five children, had both slapped the girl at least once and told her that if police saw her outside their home alone, they would arrest her, prosecutors said.
The girl, now 16, is living with a foster family in Southern California and attending a public high school where “she is doing great,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert J. Keenan. She has received a green card granting her permanent residency.
When prosecutors read the allegations against Motelib, she became upset.
“I never hit her. I never insulted her or called her names,” she said through an Arabic translator.
When the judge asked if she disagreed with any other allegations, Motelib bowed her head and stood in silence for about a minute. The judge gave her five minutes to confer with her lawyer, Vincent LaBarbera Jr. Motelib left the courtroom with tears in her eyes, and one of her teenage daughters wept quietly.
Motelib composed herself and returned, but when she had difficulty telling the court what crimes she was admitting, the judge called another recess.
She returned 10 minutes later, and the judge again asked her to tell him what she had done wrong.
“We did a mistake here in the United States of America because we didn’t respect the law,” she said through her translator. “At that time we were new here.”
She conceded slapping the girl and telling her she would be sent back to Egypt if she didn’t do as she was told. But Motelib insisted she didn’t slap the girl in the face.
Both are charged with keeping a child in involuntary servitude and harboring an alien. As part of the plea deal, they must pay the girl about $100,000 in restitution and back wages. Both will be sentenced Oct. 23.
Keenan argued that Ibrahim should be considered a flight risk and kept in custody. The prosecutor pointed out that the Egyptian citizen had an Interpol warrant for his arrest stemming from alleged fraud in Egypt in 2002. The judge set a bail hearing for Tuesday. Ibrahim remains free on $100,000 bond, Motelib on $25,000 bond.