Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields Team Secures Multiple Victories for Survivor of Religious Sect and Her Children

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields team for their work representing a mother in federal court for several years in the face of repeated threats by her ex-husband and his associates and the kidnappings of her children. 

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is pleased to honor Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Timothy Howard, Xiaoxi Tu, and Nate Montalto, and Weil Gotshal & Manges’ Steven A. Reiss, Adam C. Hemlock, Rachel Crosswell, Selma Haveric, and Liz Klinger for their team’s work representing a mother in federal court for several years, in the face of repeated threats by her ex-husband and his associates and the kidnappings of her children. 

Rachel[1] is the daughter of the founder of an extremist religious sect and the mother of six beautiful children. The group exerts severe psychological and physical control over its members, practices child marriage, engages in an atypical form of dress for women, and has adopted unusually restrictive religious practices in diet and religious study. Women are confined entirely to the domestic sphere and excluded entirely from decision-making. Members, including children, are punished harshly for the slightest infraction by sleep deprivation, false imprisonment, and many forms of psychological and physical abuse. These practices have led to repeated run-ins with child welfare authorities, prompting the group to flee the United States to reside in Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. When sect leaders ordered the marriage of Rachel’s 13-year-old daughter and retaliated against Rachel when she opposed it, she made a daring and dangerous escape with her children and fled to the United States.

Rachel obtained a temporary custody order and order of protection in Brooklyn Family Court, but it was far from over; the children’s father filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) and claimed jurisdiction should be Guatemala, where the sect had previously settled. With this set of very difficult circumstances, the Weil Gotshal team jumped in to help.  After extensive trial preparation and many court appearances, and strategic motion practice, the Hague Convention case was dismissed with prejudice.  But before that happened, just as Rachel and her children were beginning to enjoy a settled life in Brooklyn, they experienced a new traumatic event:  the sect lured away her eldest two children from a location in northern New York where they were on a sleep away trip, and spirited them across the border and later into Mexico.  Rachel was devastated.  Fortunately, the FBI, working closely with Mexican law enforcement, was able to locate the children and return them to New York, where it charged seven individual members of the sect with kidnapping.  The team then represented Rachel as a witness in the criminal federal cases that stemmed from the kidnapping.

It was a complex task because of the multiple aspects of the Hague Convention case and the federal criminal case along with the custody case in family court.  The team worked diligently to ensure that one piece of testimony would not contradict or harm one of the other proceedings while supporting their traumatized client.  This presented a very big learning curve for everyone on the case, but the team was up to the challenge, forging a strong relationship of trust with Rachel.  During the intensive fact gathering and witness preparation, many meetings were had with the legal team at Rachel’s dining room table.  The team also helped Rachel with important safety planning and safety measures for her and her children, including getting Rachel a new cellphone and helping her move several times to avoid detection. The team worked especially hard to ensure that Rachel was comfortable with her testimony and that she was able to tell her story in her own voice, as she actually experienced it.  The legal team strove to hear what Rachel wanted and do what she wished for, empowering this extraordinarily resilient woman who had been in situations of extreme control her entire life.

All of Rachel’s children’s kidnappers were convicted of child abduction and other federal crimes and are serving significant sentences in prison.  The dismissal of the Hague Convention case secured by the Weil team enabled the Brooklyn Family Court judge to move forward with the custody and order of protection cases, eventually granting Rachel the longest order of protection possible (5 years) and sole custody of all of her children.  Today, Rachel and her children are happily ensconced in their supportive Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, where therapeutic support and local generosity has helped them recover from their ordeal and flourish in their new lives.

[1]           Names have been changed.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields’ outstanding pro bono work.



Francesca L. Fulchignoni is a practice area associate in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Criminal Defense and Investigations Group.

Freshfields Team Fights for Survivor of Labor Trafficking and her Family

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Anna,” a labor trafficking survivor from Guatemala. Read to learn more.

Carolin Guentert is a clinical teaching fellow in the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Anna,” a labor trafficking survivor from Guatemala. Anna endured significant abuse at the hands of her trafficker: he held Anna captive in his home for nearly a year, raped her repeatedly, and forced her to turn her wages over to him. She finally escaped with the help of a restaurant co-worker, “Miguel,” whom she later married.

The Freshfields team included counsel Anahita Thoms (formerly of), senior associates Lupe López and Mia White (formerly of), associates Kathy Ibarra and Christopher Stucko (formerly of),and paralegal Whitney Hoyos (formerly of). The team represented Anna and Miguel in their applications to obtain T-visas.  After they were approved for T-visa status, the trafficker found and confronted Anna and her husband. The Freshfields team remained dedicated to keeping Anna and Miguel safe and helped ensure a conviction against the trafficker.


Anna was a single mother in Guatemala and struggling economically. When a man from her village offered her a job in a restaurant in the United States, Anna agreed to move to support her family. Unfortunately the man turned out to be a trafficker, who subjected Anna to extreme abuse.

After Anna’s grueling 40-day journey to the United States, her trafficker immediately took her captive. He locked her in his house for almost a year, forcing her to do cooking and housework for him with no pay. He repeatedly raped Anna and monitored her every move.

Anna’s trafficker told her that she owed him money for the cost of being brought to the United States, and that she could pay off her debt by working in a restaurant. She had to turn over all of her wages to him and was charged significant interest.

Escape and T-Visa Application

After nearly a year of living in fear and isolation, Anna confided in her co-worker, Miguel, who was a cook at the restaurant. Miguel ended up helping Anna escape, and let her stay in his home. After surviving this experience, Anna and Miguel eventually fell in love and had a baby together. They got married at a ceremony held in Sanctuary’s office, officiated by Sanctuary’s Executive Director Judge Judy Harris Kluger.

Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, referred Anna’s case to Freshfields, who quickly put together applications for T-visa status for Anna and Miguel. With the dedicated help from the Freshfields team, Anna and Miguel were approved for T-visa status in 2017.

Freshfields was also able to obtain T-visa status for Anna’s children, and is currently working to bring the children to the United States. Kathy Ibarra, an associate on the Freshfields team, recalls,

“Anna’s case was my first pro bono matter when I joined Freshfields, and it’s been great representing her ever since and forming a relationship with her.”

Confronted by Her Abuser

While Anna’s application for T-visa status was still pending, her trafficker found her and began harassing her and Miguel. But whenever Anna and Miguel tried to get help from law enforcement, they were met with resistance, likely because law enforcement was unfamiliar with labor trafficking.

The Freshfields team helped Anna and Miguel file complaints against Anna’s trafficker, accompanied them to multiple hearings, and advocated to the judge and prosecutor. The trafficker was eventually convicted of harassment, which, Kathy recalls, “empowered the client. It was important to her to be in court, to see that justice was brought against her trafficker.” Says Lori Cohen,

“Freshfields did a great deal to educate the judge and the prosecutor on the issue of labor trafficking, and created a safety net for this client.”

Reflecting on her experience, Kathy explained,

“Both Lupe and I are children of immigrants. It’s been so important to us to help other immigrants navigate the legal system, especially in light of the current immigration crisis in this country.”


Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Freshfields’ outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.