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Three people in Ashland, Ohio--65 miles south of Cleveland--were indicted yesterday on federal charges of forced labor.  According to federal prosecutors in Cleveland, they kept a mentally disabled woman and her daughter captive for two years and treated them as slaves.

The woman and her child were forced to live in a basement with pit bulls and pythons, according to the charges released at a news conference by Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

Dettelbach said the woman was beaten, threatened and forced into slavery. Some of the threats included telling the woman she would be attacked by the animals.

"These individuals preyed upon a human being with a disability," Dettelbach said. "They treated her worse than the animals in that house."

Named in the charges are Jordie Callahan, 26,  Jessica Hunt, 31, and Daniel J. Brown, 33, all from Ashland.

Court records indicate that a fourth person has been charged. Dettelbach's office declined comment today on why that person was not named in today's announcement.

Callahan, Hunt and Brown are each charged with one count of forced labor, while Callahan faces an additional charge of witness tampering.

The official announcement of the charges makes for horrifying reading.  According to the charges, Callahan and his fiancee, Hunt, recruited the woman--identified only as "S. E."--to room with them in their Ashland apartment in May 2011.  Soon afterward, they forced S. E. into slavery.  She had to clean the apartment, do laundry and care for their pit bulls and numerous reptiles.  She also had to go to the store alone on foot to do all the shopping.  Whenever she stepped out of line, they threatened to set the pit bulls and poisonous snakes loose on her, and on several occasions Callahan threatened her with a gun.  

They were forced to stay in a room with a cement floor and no bed or mattress, and were kept under lock and key every night.  On at least three occasions, Callahan and Hunt badly injured S. E., then stole the pain medication that had been prescribed for her.  Earlier, Callahan had gotten his hands on S. E.'s benefit cards; every month for two years, he managed to take nearly all of the money.  S. E. and her daughter had to make do with whatever food was left over after Callahan and Hunt ate.  In some cases, the daughter went all day without food.

S. E. only managed to escape in October, when she stole a candy bar from a store.  She'd already tried to escape once--only to have Brown take her back after he tricked her and her daughter into hitching a ride in his car.  She told officers that she wanted to go to jail, and that Callahan and Hunt "were mean to her."  When an officer went to the apartment to investigate, Callahan showed him a video taken on his mobile phone showing S. E. supposedly beating her daughter.  In truth, that video had been taken the previous October.  According to the charge sheet, Callahan and Hunt had forced S. E. to beat up her child, and then used the video to blackmail her into keeping quiet--the apparent basis for the witness-tampering charge against Callahan.

This is especially horrific considering that S. E. has never really recovered from a severe brain injury she suffered when she was 16.  It left her with the mental capacity of a 14-year-old.

The trio were brought up on state charges of abduction, kidnapping, extortion and conspiracy in January.  However, federal authorities stepped in rather quickly--I'm guessing because of the theft of federal benefits.  The state charges were dropped yesterday in lieu of the federal charges.

It goes without saying that these three are in a pack of trouble.  Based on my read of the federal sentencing guidelines, they face a minimum of 12 to 15 years in prison on the forced labor charge alone.  Normally it would be three to four years, but consider that a) there was a child involved, b) they definitely should have known S. E. was disabled, c) this went on for two years and d) Callahan threatened her with a gun.  And that's not even talking about the prospects for additional charges.  You can take it to the bank that when the superseding indictment comes out, at least one of the charges will be fraud.

According to WKYC-TV in Cleveland S. E. and her daughter are safe and sound in an undisclosed location.  My heart goes out to them--they're going to need a lot of counseling for a long time.

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