A Chicago-area woman was arrested after federal agents found 33 people they believed to be Guatemalan immigrants in a basement in an alleged forced-labor scheme.
Concepcion Malinek was arrested for labor trafficking after FBI agents found 19 adults and 14 children in her home in Cicero, Illinois, on Tuesday, according to a 12-page federal criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois.
Four people found in the home told federal agents that that Malinek helped them cross into the United States, only to charge them thousands of dollars and threaten them with deportation afterward.
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One man, identified only as Victim D, claimed that Malinek said he owed her $18,000 for letting him use her name and residence on his immigration paperwork, according to the complaint. He said Malinek sent him to a staffing agency and requested he be placed at a factory in Romeoville, Illinois.
Malinek kept a ledger with the amounts owed to her by those living in the house, Victim D told investigators. A ledger was found on Tuesday when agents searched Malinek's home, according to the complaint.
Federal law enforcement officers also found fraudulent U.S. permanent resident cards and social security for Victim D and his 15 year-old daughter, the complaint says.
"Victim D stated nobody is allowed to leave the basement of the Residence to go upstairs" unless they called Malinek and got permission, according to the complaint.
A woman, identified as Victim C, who said she lived in the house with her husband and two young children, told investigators that Malinek was verbally abusive and dared those living in the house to contact authorities.
"Immigration knows how many people live in this house," Malinek allegedly said to the residents. "You guys are poor and I have all the money."
Victim C's husband said they owed Malinek $30,000 for bringing his wife and two children in to the country. He said he paid Malinek $724 out of his monthly paycheck of almost $2,000 to cover his "debt," "bills," and transportation to and from work.
The husband also told authorities he believed the majority of people in the house were claiming political asylum, the criminal complaint says, adding that at least two of the residents were in the United States illegally with no pending asylum claim.
Court documents show Malinek was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service on Wednesday and has a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday.
A lawyer for Malinek did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
Doha Madani is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.