My life was perfect. The love of my life and I had been married for 5 years, together for 15 (college sweethearts). We had our beautiful twin girls, conceived naturally and born with no issues at 38 weeks. I was literally living my dream. My husband had just bought me my second dream car. We were making more money than we knew what to do with. My consulting business was taking off so much I had to close my law practice. My husband had opened his second clinic and was overseeing our family owned cleaning business. We literally had it all. We are not materialistic people. We had all the things that truly mattered outside of money. Our family unit was brimming over with love; all our social circles were solid and we were healthy both physically and emotionally. I could not ask for anything more. It was amazing to me to think that just 10 years prior I had endured a traumatizing foreclosure and my then-boyfriend was couch surfing with his brothers. Yes we have come a mighty long way from the days of eating one meal a day as starving college graduates. I was and am so grateful for how our lives have changed for the better. I thought we would always be this happy and this secure. But you know what they say, when it rains it pours.
One minute we were taking the girls on their fifth international trip of their life, the next I’m standing in front of a panel, explaining why they should let me keep my livelihood and my reputation.
It all started because I wanted to help a family friend. He was living in Nigeria at the time and was the brother of one of my childhood friends in North Carolina. I’ve never met Kunle. We only spoke via email and FaceTime audio. But Kunle was desperate to start a business in the States. He has a pretty cushy life back home in Abuja but wanted to diversify his interests. For whatever reason, the United States government would not grant him a visiting visa or any other authorization to come to the country but Kunle, like most Nigerians, believed the U.S. to be the land of milk and honey. After his fifth visa denial, he was determined to make money in America even if his feet never touched the soil of this land. So Kunle found Nigerians here who wanted to ship large goods (like cars or other large machines) back home. The set up was simple. His customers will pay directly into a US bank account managed by one of his American friends. The friend gets a convenience fee of ten percent and wires the rest of the money to Kunle in Nigeria. Kunle then arranges for shipment of their goods and receives it at the Lagos port to be delivered to its final destination or last contact. Although I’m not particularly familiar with business law, the enterprise checked out. They had a business account and the venture was running as a legal tax-paying entity.
Once he got up and running, Kunle’s little idea was making $10,000 a week on a slow cycle. I was impressed by his business savvy method of doing things. His clients paid on time and mostly in advance. His deliveries never had a hitch and he knew enough of the port authorities and greased enough hands that his containers never had a delay with the release of goods. Kunle was very generous with me. He paid me very well for my time. I billed him $500 per hour for any legal work and he never complained. In fact, he kept his retainer with me at a very comfortable $5,000. If it ever dipped below that amount, he would balance the account immediately so i could bill against it with no issues. We worked out a very lucrative business relationship. My husband didn’t know the ins and outs of our arrangements but he knew that Kunle was a loyal client and that was enough for them to build their own rapport.
Before long my husband and Kunle were phone friends and the girls started calling him uncle. He was more family than client. Thanks to Kunle, I was able to pay off my six figure student loan and max out the girls’ college savings funds. The financial security allowed me to go on speaking tours concerning my passion projects (human trafficking of young girls in sub Saharan Africa and supporting victims of sexual abuse in the global community). Kunle opened a lot of doors for my family and I. I was finally able to live the dreams my parents had for me when they sent me to law school. I paid off their mortgage, and retired both my parents. My dad was able to go to Nigeria for half the year. My mom goes back and forth depending on the season in each country. It was all thanks to Kunle. In fact, he was my inspiration for pursuing my passion. I saw how drastically life changed for all of us simply because this man did not give up on his ideas. I figured if I could tap into just 10 percent of that, I could make my own dreams come true. Everything seemed possible.
We had just returned from a cruise to Aruba with the girls. I didn’t even have the strength to unpack our bags. We laid the kids to bed and passed out within seconds for a jet-lagged sleep. Suddenly my heart was sprinting out of my chest as loud voices and infrared lights flooded our room. I could hear my babies screaming in terror but I couldn’t get to them. I was surrounded by an immovable wall of black. That wall turned out to be a team of FBI agents who were not going to let us out of their sight. The next month of my life was a blur. I didn’t see my husband or my girls. I was locked in an isolated cell almost around the clock except for the hours of interrogation in-between. The same questions over and over again. Who was Kunle? How did I meet him? How long had I been heading his human trafficking operation?
Human what???? My mind spun.
Kunle’s “heavy machinery” was actually human beings. Those desperate enough to live for weeks in a trailer sized container with minimal food or water and bottles and buckets as bathrooms. His “clients” (or cargo, depending on who you asked) ranged anywhere in age from 5 to 65 years old.
The thought made me so physically ill that I needed a trash can to catch the bile. The lawyer and human rights advocate was in business with a human trafficker.
All of our assets were seized. My girls were turned over to the state who thankfully placed them with their grandparents. We couldn’t be trusted to parent. I was looking at 100s of years in prison for the many victims of Kunle’s gross offenses. My life grinded to a halt as the investigation wore on.
The only thing that saved me from a fate worse than death was my meticulous record keeping. Every dollar that Kunle paid me was accounted for. They could trace the money and see what services I rendered as Kunle’s Attorney. The paper trail showed that I only participated as Kunle’s business attorney. There were no gifts or shady dealings on my end. Everything was in black and white. Eventually the federal government concluded that my husband and I were unknowing participants who thought we were dealing with a legitimate business owner. They went slightly below exonerating us of any wrong doing. They took every red cent of the money and all properties purchased with Kunle’s payments to me.
And that is why I am here today fighting to keep my law license. It’s not everyday that you are accused of gross human trafficking. The state bar and their disciplinary committee tend to frown on those kinds of accusations. It took $10,000 in legal expenses to a bar defense lawyer to convince the State of Texas to not yank away my ability to practice law. It helped that I had never even had a bar complaint in all my years as an attorney. And the fact that my trust accounting for Kunle’s retainer accounted for every penny also went over well. Eventually I was sanctioned via a strongly worded letter that warned me of impending suspension or disbarment if I am to be caught up in even the slightest of misconduct in the near future. I gladly kissed every ring of all the would emperor kings and queens who held my legal career in their hands and scurried home.
After six long months, the girls were returned to our custody. All of our loved ones were evenly divided between people who were sure that Kunle took advantage of our trusting nature and those who were convinced that we were ring leaders of the human trafficking operation.
We ended up moving to California. We changed our family name and are currently living under the radar as a typical Nigerian American family. The girls are a little older now, both in kindergarten. Thankfully they remember very little of our ordeal. Their dad and I have them convinced that it was a bad dream and their old names were their “dream names.” You can’t blame me for protecting my children. What would you have done if an imposter tried to ruin your life? So…don’t judge what you don’t know.
(Hey! Did you enjoy that? I wrote that at 1am because I couldn’t sleep. Yes, I freeformed the story from nothing and typed it out on my phone in about 24 minutes, so sorry if this draft is super rough. I will be back to edit it later. If you enjoy my writing style and my story telling, consider subscribing to my blog to get the latest updates and also to find out where you can purchase my full length books! Yes! I’ve written three books chuck full of stories and whole characters like Kunle but with many more twists and turns. I can send you links for purchasing if you’re ready. Drop a comment and email below and let me know what you think! Blessings to you ❤️)