African national, daughters charged with trafficking 2 girls

Prosecutors say an African national brought two West African girls to the Chicago area on falsified visas and along with her two daughters forced the girls to work for several years, threatening serious harm if they refused.

Nawomi Awoga, 71, a citizen of Benin who lives in the Chicago suburb of Hazel Crest, and daughters Marina Oke of Country Club Hills and Assiba Lea Fandohan of Hazel Crest were indicted last month, the Daily Southtown reported. All three pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of conspiring to harbor aliens, harboring aliens for private financial gain and forced labor.

A defense attorney listed in court records didn’t return a phone message left by the Associated Press seeking comment on the women’s behalf.

Authorities say Awoga brought two girls, ages 12 and 14, to the U.S. from Benin in 2014 on falsified six-month tourist visas. They say the girls had left their families to live with Awoga three months before traveling to the U.S. with two unnamed co-conspirators who posed as their parents. Awoga coached the girls to lie to U.S. Customs officials about their family relationships, authorities said.

The indictment alleges the girls lived with Awoga’s daughters and were forced to work for the three women. They say the women told the girls that if they didn’t perform labor and services the girls or another person would suffer serious harm.

The older girl was forced to work until August 2017, and the younger girl until September 2016, according to the indictment.