Promise of American Dream leads family into labor trafficking

Published: Jul. 23, 2013 at 3:27 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2013 at 1:27 PM EDT
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(FOX19) - The American Dream is something so many people around the world long for. However for one local family, that dream was exploited.

The D'Souza family moved to the Tri-State from India a decade ago. On promises of a new life, they picked up and left. They quickly realized those were nothing but empty promises.

Over the next few years, Harold, Dancy, Bradly and Rohan D'Souza would experience a situation like never before.

"I used to tell my husband that we were promised the moon but given dirt," added Dancy.

Promised by someone close who they felt they could trust, they were told life would be better.  They were going to work in a restaurant and maybe one day run that business. Perhaps one day, they would own a restaurant.

"We were promised a good life, a big house, a nice job, and good opportunities for my children.  When we came here, we didn't get any of that," said Dancy.

Paychecks were hard to come by. The family told the FBI that a substantial portion of their wages were withheld for 'repayment of debts', according to a letter provided by the family to FOX19 from the FBI.

At the time, their oldest son Bradly was only in third grade.

"I wasn't really aware immediately to what was going on.  I just thought, 'Oh, we're in the States now. I'm going to school here. This is the new life. This is third grade," said Bradly D'Souza.

The D'Souza's were seemingly stuck. They were in a one bedroom apartment the restaurant owner was paying for. In that same letter from the FBI, the D'Souza's say they were threatened by the restaurant owner that they'd be turned over to immigration officials.  Witnesses say Harold D'Souza was threatened with deportation.

At one point, Harold's life was actually threatened, as well.

"The owner of the restaurant had tried to have him killed, and they shot at someone else mistakenly instead of Harold," said Jessica Donohue-Dioh who was the program coordinator at End Slavery Cincinnati from 2007-2010, an anti-human trafficking coalition serving the greater Cincinnati area.

They finally got out of their situation, and started trying to make ends meet. Harold was working odd jobs and getting help from area churches and organizations. They filed cases against the restaurant owner, but couldn't collect because the owner had filed bankruptcy.

An investigation into human trafficking was done by federal authorities, but didn't go any further because much of the evidence was gone.

However, once they were paired with End Slavery Cincinnati in 2007 things started to change.

"We were able to get them into a trafficking assistance program.  We were able to identify that this is labor trafficking," added Donohue-Dioh.

Unfortunately, situations like the D'Souza's are becoming more and more common in the Tri-State over the last year.

"We have identified and served over 25 trafficking cases and victims, or victims' families, but it increases pretty much every month," said Erin Meyer with End Slavery Cincinnati.

Things are different now for the D'Souzas.

Bradly is an established student with dozens of accolades and awards for his hard work and volunteer efforts.

"I'm going to UC for business administration or management.  My plan after that is I really want to go to Stanford or the University of California, Berkeley," said Bradly.

Even though life was not what they thought it would be at first in America, Dancy says coming here has opened so many doors. Harold now works at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and she takes care of the kids.

"Our children have had wonderful opportunities that we might not have had if we were back in India," said Dancy.

The D'Souzas have managed to sift through all the bad to find the good in any situation.

"It might seem the darkest of days when you're actually experiencing what you are experiencing, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel," Dancy told FOX19. 

If you know someone, or suspect someone has fallen victim to labor trafficking, there are resources out there for help.

You can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.  If you're in the greater Cincinnati area, you can call the local human trafficking hotline at 513-800-1863.

The D'Souzas family chose not to disclose the name of the restaurant for fear of their safety.

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