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Former Employee alleges human trafficking, forced labor against Rockport business

Rockport business owner faces federal lawsuit
Posted at 3:52 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 00:42:42-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Tonight, we begin a special report about a former employee of a Rockport business, who has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court, accusing the Rockport business owner of human trafficking, forced labor, and peonage.

The former employee is also a member of the business owner's family.

The former employee's attorney calls what his client experienced from the owner 'modern day slavery.'

The information you'll hear in tonight's story is from that lawsuit.

Sophy Treadway was born Sophy Koem, in Cambodia, in 1989.

After her mother died, and her father worked long hours away from home, Sophy grew up living with an aunt, Sinoeum Mao.

According to the lawsuit, Treadway's journey to Texas began in 2008, when she met her second cousin, Sopheak Otero.

Otero and her husband, Matthew, were in Cambodia for work, and in 2009, the Oteros hired Treadway and Mao as their full-time servants and nannies for their children.

Paid them $2-$3 a day.

The suit claims Matthew Otero once bragged that his wife, Treadway, and Mao, were 'my ladies. One I take to my room. The other cleans my room. And the other cooks my meals. What a life, huh?'

Otero agreed to talk with us about the lawsuit, and Treadway and Mao, just a couple weeks ago when we were in Rockport, shooting video for this story.

"These two girls, when we took them in, in Cambodia, they had brown and white hair, and their teeth were brown," he said. "The stench on them, on their body -- it took months to get away."

But in 2011, when the Oteros decided to return to the U.S. to open a business, they admitted under oath in a deposition that they paid a total of $40,000 to get visas to bring Treadway and Mao with them.

Treadway alleges the Oteros promised her and her aunt that after working to repay them $20,000 each for the visas, they, the Oteros would help them apply for citizenship.

In 2012, the Oteros opened Rockport Donuts. Treadway and Mao, according to the lawsuit, would work at the business from early morning to late afternoon, then go home and carry out their duties as nannies, all for $75 a month, or more than $2 a day.

But according to this Rockport Police report, on Aug. 31, 2018, Otero had Treadway arrested for stealing money from the donut shop.

The arrest report shows she turned herself in to Rockport Police.

"I put hidden cameras," he said. "Shocked. I couldn't believe it. This girl was my wife's niece. She was living with us, caring for us, and she was stealing $20 a day; $280. Just $20 bills at a time. Right on camera."

Otero said he actually caught Treadway stealing money once before he called police.

"We thought 'OK, she's young. She's coming to America. She sees the money.' What can we do, you know? She begged us to forgive her and the (aunt). So we didn't send them back."

In August 2019, Treadway hired Houston attorney Xenos Yuen and filed the civil lawsuit against the Oteros and Rockport Donuts, alleging human trafficking, forced labor, and peonage.

Yuen called what Treadway and Mao had endured from Otero, 'modern day slavery.'

"All it takes is an employer, or someone who knows how to exploit these people, who normally don't know enough about the law," he said.

It is important to note that Treadway has never been indicted or otherwise charged after her arrest.

The Rockport Police Department tells us it's still investigating.

Treadway's aunt, Sinoeum Mao, is not part of this lawsuit.

Treadway's attorney tells us he's also filed a class-action lawsuit against the Oteros on behalf on several other former employees, for overtime pay, but he said wvery few of those former employees have decided to be part of it.

Coming up Wednesday in Part 2: "We caught her stealing $67,000.00 from our donut shop. That's what people don't know. You tell me. Do those kind of people deserve to be in America ? Hell no."