SOUTHLAKE, Texas - A Southlake couple is accused of keeping a child illegally in their home and forcing her to work for them for 16 years.
Authorities say the victim came to North Texas from the West African nation of Guinea in 2000. From then until 2016 when she escaped the couple's Southlake home, authorities say they forced her to babysit for their children, clean their house, do their shopping, their yard work and more.
Southlake Police, as well as several other federal agencies, have been looking into this case for close to two years. Neighbors told police they thought the family simply had a nanny. However, court documents called her “a slave.”
Federal investigators say inside a Southlake home on Briar Ridge Road appraised at $600,000 was a young woman — now age 24 — forced to be a slave for 16 years.
The accusations have left neighbors stunned.
"Very surprising. Especially in this town,” said neighbor Tracy Zavodnick. “It's not something that you want or expect. This is a very affluent neighborhood, and it's very shocking."
57-year-old Mohamed Toure and his wife Denise Cros-Toure were arrested and charged with forced labor.
According to investigators with the U.S. Department of State, the couple brought a 5-year-old girl to Southlake from a village in Guinea Africa back in 2000 and made her their slave.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the girl would "cook, clean, do the laundry, and garden, among other things, such as mowing the lawn and painting" without being paid.
"I'm not really sure what to say,” said neighbor Andy Ray. “It's amazing to think that that even can exist today."
Investigators say while the couple had five other children around her age, the girl was not allowed to go to school, play sports and was physically abused. According to the affidavit "slapping led to the use of a belt, which then led to the use of an electrical cord to strike her."
"I've seen her running before around the block,” Zavodnick said. “But I don't know the family. I just assumed that she lived there."
Court documents say the young woman escaped from the house in August 2016 when she was 22 years old. That's when the feds began investigating.
No one was home when a FOX 4 crew knocked on the door, hoping to talk to family members.
The couple's attorney, Scott Palmer, released the following statement to FOX 4:
“There's a lot more to this story than meets the eye. The young lady was brought over to the US at the request of her father who is related to Mr. Toure because he wanted a better life for his daughter. She was not the family's slave and we will prove that."
Palmer says he'll hold a news conference on Friday to talk more about the case.
The Toures remain in jail. They’ll have a federal court hearing on Monday.