Suburban Chicago woman gets 6.5 years for labor trafficking

CHICAGO — A suburban Chicago woman was sentenced Tuesday to six and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to charges alleging she helped several people from Guatemala enter the U.S. illegally and forbid them from leaving her home until they paid off debts to her.

Concepcion Malinek, 50, of Cicero, had pleaded guilty last year to one count of labor trafficking.

Prosecutors said that from 2009 to 2019, Malinek helped at least 10 Guatemalan immigrants enter the U.S. illegally and forced them to work in a factory to pay off their debts to her. They said Malinek threatened the victims with deportation and separation from their children to force the victims to continue to work. Most lived in her basement.

Besides the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang ordered Malinek to pay $112,545 in restitution to the victims.

“Malinek controlled her victims’ every move, knowing their whereabouts at all times, the exact amount of each paycheck she stole from them, and what levers to push and pull to keep them all in line,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher V. Parente argued in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “Malinek knew her victims were scared of deportation and separation from their loved ones far more than they dreaded the abuse and exploitive actions she imposed on them.”

Malinek tearfully told the judge she got in trouble by “acquiescing to people that asked me for a favor” and by helping too many immigrants try to find a better life in the U.S..

The sentencing hearing began last month but was interrupted when Malinek began to suffer chest pains.