West African Man Convicted of Keeping Four Boys as Slaves

Jay Scott Smith, November 1, 2012

On Tuesday, a federal jury convicted a former janitor at the University of Michigan of enslaving and abusing four West African boys. He held the boys in his home for five years and pretended that they were his own children.

Jean-Claude Kodjo Toviave, a native of the West African nation of Togo, could face up to 20 years in prison after being convicted on four counts of forced labor. Toviave, 42, was originally arrested in May 2011 after three of the boys reported the abuse to counselors at a middle school.

Toviave, whose sentencing is set for Feb. 6, smuggled the four boys into the country from Togo by using fake passports with false names and birth dates. Claiming the boys were his own biological children, he went as far as enrolling the three youngest—ages 21, 20, and 15—in a public middle school.

During the trial, the boys testified that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrapers, and cell phone chargers if they failed to obey orders to do their house chores—which included cooking, housecleaning, ironing his suits, shining his shoes, washing and vacuuming his car, and cleaning one of his friends’ houses.

Toviave also starved and sleep-deprived them as punishment. In February, Toviave pled guilty to mail fraud and harboring illegal aliens in connection with bringing the four boys to the United States.

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