The case of the child-trafficking janitorMost child welfare cases pass unnoticed by the media, but local CASA volunteers were recently involved in one that became national news: the "parent" who lost custody was trafficking kids.
CASA coordinator Joyce Tesoriero pulls out a clipping from the Detroit Free Press. "It took five years for them to figure it out," she says. "This guy brought them over from Togo [in west Africa], and went out of his way to find kids who were short, so that they looked younger. He used them to bring in welfare money. He was a janitor at U of M. They had bruises, bad clothing ..."
In March, the Free Press reported the sentencing of Jean-Claude Toviave: "Showing no emotion and offering no apology, an Ypsilanti man was sentenced to 111/4 years in federal prison today for enslaving and abusing four west Africans in his home for years, pretending they were his own children after sneaking them into the country with fake documents." A jury convicted Toviave after hearing testimony that he beat the children with "broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrapers and phone chargers if they failed to do their house chores."
Tesoriero can't talk much about the case, but says she remembers the kids well. One was already an adult, but the three younger children became wards of the court, and all were assigned CASAs. One has since aged out and another has been adopted, but Gini Harmon is still working with eighteen-year-old Sara.