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Woman who allegedly kept modern-day slaves gets probation

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Sweet Nothings/I Do I Do bridal salon in Flagstaff. Sweet Nothings/I Do I Do bridal salon in Flagstaff.
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (CBS5/AP) -

A Flagstaff woman will be on probation for five years after running what federal investigators called a "modern-day slavery" operation out of the family's wedding boutique and lingerie store.

The Arizona Daily Sun reports a final deal with Huong Thi "Kelly" McReynolds was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

She's the owner of the boutique and lingerie shop and also was ordered to pay seven named victims a total of $156,000 in 60 monthly payments.

McReynolds and her ex-husband, James Hartful McReynolds, were arrested in July 2011 along with two other family members, Joseph Minh McReynolds and Vincent Minh McReynolds. They were accused of forced labor and money laundering.

She pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor offense for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The other family members also got plea deals that didn't include jail time.

[Click here to read the full indictment (PDF)]

The McReynolds family brought the victims into the U.S. by offering them a better life, including promises of happy marriages to U.S. citizens and educational opportunities, according to prosecutors. 

Shortly after the victims arrived, they discovered that the McReynolds family would not fulfill their promises and the victims faced compelled servitude in the McReynolds' home and their business - Sweet Nothings/I Do I Do bridal salon in Flagstaff, federal officials said.

"They weren't just exploited for their labor, they were robbed of their basic human dignity," said U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.

Huong McReynolds and her two sons, Joseph and Vincent, compelled the victims to work long hours with little or no pay, the indictment alleges. Between September 2001 and December 2008, the Vietnamese workers cycled through the bridal shop, with their "employment" ending either by their escaping or being "evicted," according to prosecutors.

Members of the McReynolds family, including Huong, Joseph, and James, each married Vietnamese victims, investigators said. The victims believed they would be entering legitimate marriages with these McReynolds family members.

Huong McReynolds shepherded victims through the visa process, that included coaching them prior to their interviews at the consulate, the indictment alleges. Once the victims were in the U.S., Huong McReynolds confiscated their passports and identification, and informed them that they would not only be working at her home, but also long hours in their bridal shop, prosecutors said.

Despite their marriages to the victims, Huong McReynolds and James McReynolds, who divorced in 1996, continued to live together as husband and wife, investigators said. Both before and after Joseph McReynolds' marriage to one of the Vietnamese victims, he was living with a U.S. citizen, with whom he fathered children both before and during his fraudulent marriage, the indictment alleges. 

The investigation, called Operation Broken Promises, was conducted by ICE HSI, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Marshal's Service. 

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved.  CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation) contributed to this report.

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PDF: Read the indictment READ: Flagstaff bridal shop owners kept modern-day slaves agent says (7/22/11) READ: Alleged human traffickers can't stop that special day More>>

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