Woman gets 7 years in Haitian slave case

A former schoolteacher and her husband were sentenced Tuesday for forcing a Haitian teenage girl to work as a slave in their home.


For six long years, Simone Celestin spent her weekdays — up to 15 hours — cleaning, cooking and washing clothes for a Cutler Bay family. On weekends, she did the same at the family’s Miramar home. At night, the young Haitian girl bathed with a bucket, ate leftovers and slept on the floor.

On Tuesday, Celestin, now 25, sat in silence in the back of a federal courtroom in Fort Lauderdale listening to a judge punish the people who kept her as a modern-day slave.

U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. sentenced Maude Paulin, a former middle-school teacher, to seven years and three months in prison and ordered her to pay $162,765 in restitution to Celestin.

Her ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, was sentenced to 18 months of probation, which includes six months of house arrest in his New Jersey home.

In March, Maude Paulin, 52, who taught at a Miami-Dade school, was convicted of human trafficking and conspiring to deprive Celestin of her civil rights by holding her against her will.

Paulin’s mother, Evelyn Theodore, and Saintfort Paulin, were found guilty of a lesser charge — harboring Celestin for purposes other than profit. Theodore, who recently suffered a stroke, will be sentenced at a later date.


Maude Paulin apologized in the courtroom as her family members sobbed and buried their heads in their hands. She dried her tears and looked away during much of the three-hour sentencing hearing, begging the judge for a second chance.

”I love Simone with all my heart,” Paulin said. “I regret it and blame myself.”

”I did this with my heart and didn’t think with my head,” she said repeatedly.

The story of how Celestin got justice for the savage treatment she suffered at the hands of these two families began in the young woman’s homeland of Haiti, according to prosecutors.

Celestin was taken from her mother at age 5 and sent to a Haitian orphanage before being smuggled to South Florida in 1999. That year, Theodore arranged to bring the girl, then 14, to Miami under the pretext that she was a “niece.”

Saintfort Paulin told authorities he was under the impression Celestin was going to be treated like a foster child, but instead his relatives forced her to work in slave-like conditions.

Maude Paulin’s attorney Richard Dansoh said his client’s “intention in this case was good, but the execution was disastrous.”

At trial, Celestin took the stand and told the jury she spent weekdays at Maude Paulin’s Cutler Bay home and weekends at the Miramar home of Claire Telasco, 43, Maude Paulin’s sister.

Celestin said she was repeatedly hit by Theodore and Paulin — they used shoes, brooms, even a mortar, which is used for grinding food. But she said Paulin’s husband intervened several times to stop the beatings. He also tried to enroll her in school but was unable to because of her language barrier.

It wasn’t until June 2005 when Celestin was freed from the family. A friend of Celestin’s mother, who still lived in Haiti, arranged her escape with help from a Little Haiti social service agency and a South Florida immigration advocacy group.


At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Maude Paulin’s friends and family painted a sympathetic portrait of her in hopes the judge would be lenient. They talked about the time and money she has donated to Haitians living in Haiti and the United States.

”Two months ago in this courtroom there was a woman described as a monster, someone unloveable, but that’s not my mother,” Maude Paulin’s daughter, Erika, told the judge. “She is my inspiration.”

Saintfort Paulin tried to hold back his tears as he stood before the judge.

”I thought Simone was coming for completely good intentions,” he said. “I was not around as much as I should have been. I’m sorry to Simone.”

Although the judge sentenced Maude Paulin to the low end of federal guidelines, the seven-year sentence represented a victory for prosecutors who sought seven to nine years. ”This is an extremely serious crime,” said prosecutor Edward Chung. “This was a public school teacher who should have known better, yet she did nothing to help this girl.”

Maude Paulin must surrender to the court before 12 p.m. on July 30 and will be taken to a South Florida prison. When she is discharged, she must serve three years of supervised release. The Florida Department of Education has also revoked her teaching license.

Saintfort Paulin must begin serving house arrest on July 2 and pay the court $500.



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