SOUTHLAKE, Texas - The Southlake couple who made national news after being accused of illegally using a girl from Africa for forced labor faced a federal judge Monday in Fort Worth.
Mohamed Toure and Denise Cros-Toure face charges of forced labor. A judge ruled they could be released while awaiting trial.
The courtroom on Monday was tightly packed with the couple’s supporters. The defense used the crowd of neighbors and friends as proof that the couple with prominent political ties to Guinea is not a flight risk.
The children of the accused couple were smiling shortly after a judge said their parents could get out of jail. But earlier in court, the siblings had tears flowing and was in disbelief at seeing their parents in orange striped jumpsuits.
Mohamed and Denise are accused of using a girl from Africa as forced labor for 16 years. According to the complaint, the girl told investigators she was forced to cook, clean, provide child care, and garden with no pay. She was never enrolled in school. The complaint alleges that she was also physically abused.
About 50 neighbors and friends packed the courtroom for the hearing.
“I've known them 20 years. They are not cruel or mean people,” said Mia Lane, a close family friend. “I love them and support them 100 percent.”
Lane said the Toures are the godparents to her children. She said the accuser, who is grown now, never said anything about abuse. FOX 4 is not showing her face because of the sensitive nature of the allegations.
“I know her very well. She's had my number. Never said anything like that to me,” Lane said. “I've never seen anything like that. I was there for different holidays and special occasions."
According to testimony, the woman was between 10 and 14 years old when distant relatives put her on a plane from Guinea to America.
Scott Palmer, the couple’s attorney, said they never enrolled her in school because she was in the U.S. on an expired visa.
“There's always the backdrop of if someone notices her and she's not supposed to be here, can she get deported,” Palmer said. “They're all trying to keep her here because she doesn't want to go back to Guinea.”
A federal investigator testified that two previous children from Africa were also subjected to forced labor before the Toures sent them back. She did not elaborate on those alleged incidents.
Palmer argues the false labor claim, in this case, is a ploy. He said if the accuser can prove she is a victim, she could obtain legal status in the U.S.
“It's not a hard one to figure out but unfortunate she would do it to people who loved her and cared for her for and gave her a home 16 years,” Palmer said. “I've never seen anything like it."
The couple’s children went to get their French passport to surrender to the court on Monday. An attorney says the judge will be finalizing the conditions for their release on Tuesday and then will be released.