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Egyptian Girl Denies She Was Family Servant

Crime: Police doubt her story, saying others in the home said she cooked and cleaned. Charges against an Irvine man are under consideration.

April 18, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 12-year-old Egyptian girl who police allege was kept as an involuntary servant by a wealthy Irvine family told detectives that she loved living in America and was not being forced to work as a maid, according to a police affidavit made public Wednesday.

But police didn't believe the girl was telling the truth and were later told by others who lived in the house that she helped cook and clean instead of attending school, according to court documents.

The affidavit outlines for the first time how police came to suspect the girl was being mistreated and what led them to arrest the head of the family, Abdelnaser Ibrahim, 41. Police say the girl lived in unsanitary conditions in the home's garage.

The Orange County district attorney's office is weighing criminal charges against Ibrahim, who owns a steel export business.

Federal prosecutors are reviewing the case for possible civil rights violations.

Ibrahim's attorney insisted Wednesday that the girl was well treated and slept in a comfortable bedroom in a renovated section of the garage. And he criticized police, saying they overreacted.

"They arrested [Ibrahim] on a slavery charge--it's just ludicrous," attorney Allan Stokke said. "She's the first slave in the United States to be served Perrier water. They found empty Perrier water bottles" in her living space.

According to the search warrant, a senior Orange County social worker, Carol Chen, contacted Irvine police April 9 after an anonymous caller made a child abuse complaint. The caller said a girl was living in Ibrahim's garage and acting as a maid for the family.

About 10:10 a.m., Chen, Irvine Police Investigator Tracy Jacobson and another detective knocked on Ibrahim's door. Ibrahim invited them inside.

Jacobson quizzed him about his five children and the girl living with them. Ibrahim, the warrant said, told her at first that he was not related to the girl, but then said she was a distant relative.

He said the girl was not going to school but said he would try to enroll her, the affidavit said. He brought the girl to speak to detectives, but when she arrived, detectives grew concerned as Ibrahim repeatedly addressed her in Arabic, according to documents.

"I told him several times to stop speaking to her, as I could not understand what was being said," Jacobson wrote in the affidavit.

Having problems understanding the girl, the detectives called an AT&T operator who translated. The girl insisted she was being treated well and was living in one of the bedrooms in the main house. But police said they suspected she was not telling the truth.

"We have no idea what [Ibrahim] told her in Arabic, so we believe this may have influenced her answers," Irvine Police Lt. Sam Allevato said Wednesday.

Ibrahim, his wife and their 17-year-old daughter refused to say anything more, so detectives drove to school to talk to three of the family's other four children. They said the girl was an "assistant" to their mother, helping her cook and clean, the affidavit said.

Detectives took the girl into protective custody and hauled away evidence they say shows how poor her living conditions were, including a dead black widow spider allegedly found in her bedroom.

But Ibrahim's attorney said the warrant omits evidence showing how well the girl was treated. The family, Stokke said, bought her passes to Disneyland and other local theme parks.

The girl's living space was carpeted and nicely painted, Stokke said. "It's highly misleading to say she's sleeping in the garage," he said. "It's a very nice room."

The family was planning to hire a private tutor for the girl, he said, and regularly sent money to the girl's impoverished parents in Egypt. Three of her sisters had lived with them in similar conditions in Egypt with the approval of their parents, Stokke said.

The girl remains in Orangewood Children's Home. The county's Social Services Agency is trying to find her parents in Egypt before a family judge decides next month whether she should stay in the United States.

*

Times staff writer Tina Borgatta contributed to this report.

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