SEATTLE – A teenage Moroccan girl who came to Washington state in hopes of getting a good education and becoming a dentist was instead kept as a slave by her aunt and uncle, who pulled her out of school and forced her to work without pay at the family’s espresso stand, the FBI says.
Abdenasser Ennassime, also known as Sammy, was arrested at the espresso stand, Lake City Perk, in the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood, and his wife, Tonya, was arrested at their home Friday morning, one day after a federal grand jury indicted them on one count of forced labor and one count of harboring an alien. The girl, now 17, has been living in a safe house.
The indictment itself reveals few details about the case, but an affidavit filed by an FBI agent in a related matter shows what authorities believe happened:
The girl, Lamia Ennassime, came to stay with her aunt and uncle at age 12 in September 2001, with the understanding that she would help care for their young son and help with the housework in exchange for lodging and a chance for a good education. She made breakfast and dinner, did laundry, cleaned the house, and worked weekends and summers without pay at the espresso stand.
In March 2004, Sammy Ennassime read her diary, in which she complained about being mistreated. Furious, he punched her three times in the face and withdrew her from school, the affidavit said. He forced her to work more at the espresso stand, sometimes 12 to 14 hours, and confiscated her tips – about $5,000 in all – under the threat of reporting her for being in the country illegally.
In an interview with The Associated Press during the FBI’s investigation, Tonya Ennassime said she and her husband had treated Lamia lovingly and that they were hurt by her unfounded allegations. The couple were released after an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Friday afternoon; their lawyer said the girl made up the allegations as a way to remain in the country.
Lamia ran away from the couple’s home this summer, and her father came from Morocco to look for her. He believed the FBI had secretly detained her, and he filed a lawsuit against the agency, the Lakewood Police Department and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, trying to discern her whereabouts.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction in September; none of the agencies had custody of the girl.
But one filing in that case included an affidavit for a search warrant by FBI Special Agent Eric Mueller, who wrote that the Ennassimes were under investigation for their treatment of Lamia. Mueller wrote that Sammy Ennassime had covertly recorded her conversations, and that after reviewing surveillance videos from the espresso stand, he complained that she spent too much time talking to male customers.