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SPECIAL REPORT Part. 2: Otero claims employee stole, but no charges filed yet

Posted at 10:45 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 00:01:05-05

Tonight, Part 2 of our special report on a federal civil lawsuit filed against a Rockport business owner alleging human trafficking, forced labor and peonage.

The business owner produced a video he said shows his family member, and former employee, stealing money from his business.

Matthew Otero claims video shows Sophy Treadway taking money out of the cash register at his business, Rockport Donuts, and putting it in her pocket. He says she's stealing, and he filed charges against her with the Rockport Police Department.

Treadway turned herself in, but has not been charged with a crime.

Otero says he actually caught Treadway stealing from his business twice. The second time, on Aug. 31, 2018, he had her arrested for theft but she has never been indicted on the theft charge.

Rockport police said it's still investigating the claim.

We knocked on the door of Treadway's house two weeks ago to ask her about the lawsuit. No one answered. She lives just two blocks, or so, from the Oteros in Rockport.

"We caught her stealing $67,000 from our donut shop," Matthew Otero said. "That's what people don't know. You tell me: Do those kind of people deserve to be in America? Hell no."

Treadway's Houston-based attorney Xenos Yuen said Otero is out of line for even bringing up Treadway's arrest.

"And I think it's wrong for Mr. Otero to publicize and say 'Well, she stole so much money in there,' " Yuen said. "They couldn't prove it."

Otero blames current Aransas Co. District Attorney Kristen Barnebey for not doing anything with this case to date.

"Had our current county attorney did her job, as a county attorney, and prosecuted that, I wouldn't be going thru this mess of lawsuits," he said.

At the center of this dispute is this civil lawsuit Treadway has filed in federal court -- alleging human trafficking, forced labor, and peonage -- against Otero, his wife, who is Treadway's aunt, and their business.

Remember, according to the lawsuit, the Oteros paid a total of $40,000 for visas so Treadway and her aunt could come to the U.S. with them from Cambodia.

Once here, the lawsuit states, the Oteros put them to work at the donut shop from early morning to afternoon and then, according to the allegations, they cooked and cleaned and took care of the Oteros three children at home until late in the evening.

All for $75 a month, or a little more than $2 a day.

Her attorney calls it slavery.

"I mean, this is modern-era slavery," Yuen said. "It's not like so imminent back in the 50's or last centuries. So the modern slavery, a lot more subtle."

The lawsuit states that when Treadway and her aunt complained to the Oteros about the long hours, or tried to leave, the Oteros reminded them they had to repay him for the visas.

Treadway states in the lawsuit that she felt trapped.

She said every time, when they tried to leave, the were threatened with criminal prosecution.

As you can imagine, there are many opinions being shared on social media on this.

"Public opinion, especially with social media now is, slander first worry about it later," Otero said. "You wanna go back to the old saying: Innocent 'til proven guilty. Never is that way. Never is that way."