Earlier this month, the FBI was tipped off to a possible human trafficking case just outside of Chicago. The tipster reported that a factory coworker in Romeoville, Illinois, said a woman in Cicero was keeping him and 20 other Guatemalans in her basement, forcing them to work, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The tipster told authorities on March 15 that the Guatemalan coworker said the homeowner “keeps an eye on them constantly … does not let the victims go anywhere without her and ... transports them to work every day in a white passenger van,” the complaint said.
That spawned a law enforcement investigation, and resulted in a raid on the home early Tuesday morning — which revealed that the woman who owned the house was keeping 19 adults and 14 kids there, all of them believed to be from Guatemala, the complaint said.
Concepcion Malinek, the 49-year-old homeowner, faces federal labor trafficking charges, the complaint said. She’s accused of helping Guatemalans come to the United States, then making them pay off the debt by keeping them in her basement or elsewhere in her home and taking part of their wages, as well as charging for rides to work and forcing them to clean her home.
An FBI agent wrote in the complaint that in Malinek’s bedroom authorities found a ledger where she wrote how much each victim owed her, including one page with a sentence that said: “You are free to leave or stay after the debt has been paid.”
One victim said Malinek was “verbally abusive,” according to the complaint, telling her victims that “immigration knows how many people live in this house, you guys are poor and I have all the money.”
Malinek was booked at a Kendall County jail on Wednesday, where she’s listed as being held for another agency, according to online jail records. Records show Malinek is set to appear in court on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
The worker whose story spurred the investigation said Malinek “constantly threatens him and the others with immigration consequences if they talk about their arrangement,” according to the complaint.
One victim who lived there with his 15-year-old daughter told authorities he paid Guatemalan officials $14,000 to come to the U.S., crossing the border in Texas and reporting to immigration, to whom he gave Malinek’s name and address “as the residence he would be residing at pending his immigration disposition,” the complaint said.
When he arrived at Malinek’s home, she said he owed $18,000 for writing her name and address on immigration paperwork and for transporting him from the border to Illinois, the complaint said. He lived in the basement, but his daughter lived upstairs.
That victim knew Malinek from construction work on a hotel she owned in Guatemala, and Malinek “told him and other victims on multiple occasions that if they talk to anyone about what was going on inside the Residence they would be deported back to Guatemala and their kids will stay in the United States with” Malinek, according to the complaint.
He said that “nobody is allowed to leave the basement ... to go upstairs unless they call [Malinek] and receive permission” and that “his daughter is allowed to come down to the basement to visit him, but only for limited periods of time,” the complaint said.
Each month, Malinek took $974 out of his $1,956 monthly pay — “(1) $200 towards his debt; (2) $424 for ‘bills’ 3; (3) $200 for transportation to/from work; and (4) $35 for the phone [she] gave him,” the complaint said.
A 15-year-old girl who lived there (who said Malinek got her a fake ID claiming she was 28) told authorities she and her father came to the U.S. in 2018 after Malinek told them the journey would cost $5,000 — but were told they owed Malinek $10,000 upon arrival, according to the complaint.
Another victim said two weeks ago he agreed to pay Malinek $30,000 to bring his wife and second child to the U.S., the complaint said. He said he believed most living at the home “are aliens claiming political asylum, but at least two of the aliens are in the United States illegally with no pending asylum claim,” according to the complaint.
The complaint said that “law enforcement is still working on verifying the immigration status of all victims in this investigation.”