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A Guardian Is Accused of Holding 2 Teenagers Captive in Queens for Years

She was regularly missing from her classes at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, and when she was there, teachers would catch the girl, a 16-year-old from South Korea, nodding off during lessons.

But it was not until last week, when an assistant principal noticed her bruises, that the school and law enforcement officials discovered why. Prosecutors in Queens said on Tuesday that the girl and her 14-year-old brother, who had been sent to the United States to attend school, had been held captive for six years.

The woman who had been their guardian, Sook Yeong Park, forced the siblings to work both in and outside the home, cut off their contact with their parents and had them sleep on the floor, officials said.

She was charged with labor trafficking, third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Ms. Park, 42, was arraigned on Saturday and released on $10,000 bond.

Last Thursday, after the girl’s bruises were noticed, the siblings told school officials about the abuse, and the police were alerted. The assistant principal, who was not named, went to Ms. Park’s home in Flushing to demand that she return the children’s passports.

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Dimitria Ayfantis, a neighbor of Sook Yeong Park, who faces labor trafficking charges. Credit Uli Seit for The New York Times

On Saturday the assistant principal went to the grocery store where they worked to collect their pay. Ms. Park is accused of keeping their previous earnings.

Dennis J. Ring, Ms. Park’s lawyer, said the authorities were rushing to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Park, even though “significant cultural barriers” complicated the case. He said in a statement that prosecutors opted to rely on the “uncorroborated statement of a 16-year-old who doesn’t like the parenting choices of her legally adoptive mother.”

“That does not add up to a crime,” he said.

Prosecutors said the children had gone years without speaking to their family members in South Korea.

The girl slept in a small closet, with just a blanket, and the boy slept on a bathroom floor, prosecutors said. Ms. Park is accused of hitting and slapping the children, and stepping on their legs and kicking them when they did not obey her orders.

The girl worked for several hours after school almost every day, sometimes laboring away on household chores until 2 a.m., prosecutors said. The girl had to give Ms. Park manicures and pedicures and massage her back and feet; prosecutors said she recalled once massaging Ms. Park for five hours while Ms. Park watched television.

On the street in Flushing where Ms. Park lived in a small brick house, neighbors recalled seeing the children walking to school or doing their chores. There were unusual signs: They would see a child rummaging through neighbors’ trash cans searching for recyclables, out in the cold without warm clothes.

Dimitria Ayfantis, a neighbor, said the boy once asked her if she needed help around the house. She paid him $10 to shovel snow in the driveway.

Ms. Ayfantis also remembered one episode in which Ms. Park got into a dispute with a neighbor over a parking spot and she could hear Ms. Park yelling and kicking the neighbor’s car.

“This lady, you could see it in her face that she wasn’t good,” Ms. Ayfantis, 56, said. “She was ready to fight.”

Last month, another neighbor, Ria Pallas, said her husband ran into the girl, who had dyed her hair a shade of orange, on the street after midnight while he walked the dog. The girl, not wearing a coat, stopped to pet the puppy and told him she was 18 and working in New Jersey, Ms. Pallas said.

As unusual as the run-in was, Ms. Pallas said, she never suspected the kind of abuse described by the authorities. “They were never dirty, or disheveled,” Ms. Pallas, 45, said. She paused, adding, “But there was always just something off.”

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