Cinderella Story

A daughter treated well. A 14-year-old orphan beaten and rented to neighbors. This ain't Disney.

Fourteen-year-old Simone was brought from the orphanage to the Paulin household that same year and told "she was to go to the United States to live and work for defendant Maude Paulin," according to a complaint signed by U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta and prosecutors Brent Tantillo and Edward Chung. The girl was then forced to work in both Maude's house and that of her sister, Claire Telasco. The sisters also charged people to have the teen work at their homes, the government alleges.

When Simone didn't want to work, the women beat her "with hands, closed fists, and other objects," the indictment claims. She was prohibited from using the phone, making friends, or leaving the house by herself; she had to remain in a closet or the garage when guests came. Nor was she enrolled in school (defense attorney Joel DeFabio declined to comment further than to say the Paulins "attempted" to enroll Simone). At some point she ran away and contacted authorities.

The government's evidence is unknown. But there is some indication Maude Paulin has resorted to corporal punishment before. In 2003 the school board suspended her without pay for 30 work days after an investigator substantiated rumors she had "hit [a student] with an electrical cord and [another student] with a textbook."

The next year Saintfort and Maude divorced. In a statement of personal finance, Maude describes her income at Campbell Drive as $33,280 annually; the house is valued at $260,500. The file does not include any financial statements from Saintfort, but the Paulins appear to have been a middle-class family. The divorce files describe one daughter, Erica; nowhere do they mention Simone.

Evidence in the public record is scant and leaves open several crucial questions. If Simone was brought into the country illegally, how was this accomplished? Why wasn't she enrolled in school or declared a dependent? But most important, what really went on behind the doors of the house on SW 87th Place?

George Fernandez, a neighbor who lives across the street, doesn't have any answers. "I told [federal agents] I seen the two girls," he says. Standing in a comfortable white bathrobe as the sun begins to set on a weekday evening, he motions his palms downward, as if patting two invisible heads. "I saw them all the time," he says. "But whether they both went to school, that I cannot tell you."

Another neighbor, who declined to give her name, says this is the first time she has heard about any trouble with her neighbors. She recalls Simone, though. "She was very nice," the woman says. "She was always outside — she loved to garden. She helped me with my garden a couple of times." As to the charge of slavery, the woman has only this to offer: "Let me tell you — she was fat. If she was a slave, they certainly were feeding her well."

The next-door neighbor who defends Maude's Christianity is the only one of the three who knows the Paulins personally. She and Maude attend prayer group together. She doesn't believe the charges, she says, not for a minute. As to the yard work and the outdoor showers, she says, "They all worked in the garden. They all hosed down in the back yard."

The charges against her neighbor break her heart, she says. "They didn't even want the girl" (who's now in her early twenties), she emphasizes. "But her father died and they took her in. [Maude] tried to do a good deed, and it turned around and backfired on her."

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