(AP) ASHLAND, Ohio -- A woman told authorities she was held captive for more than a year by three people who forced her to do housework, raided her bank account and menaced her with snakes and pit bulls.
But an attorney for one of the suspects and the alleged captor's mother said the mentally impaired woman was given a place to stay because she and her young daughter had no home and that the woman was free to move in an out whenever she wanted.
Authorities announced federal charges Tuesday against the three people the woman lived with in Ashland, about 65 miles southwest of Cleveland. Beginning in early 2011, they forced the mother to cooperate with them by threats and physical abuse, they said.
A fourth person was also charged, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, but has not been named by prosecutors.
The woman and her daughter were freed in October after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the suspects made against her, authorities said, and they are doing well.
"The victim in this case is slowly recovering," U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach said.
Jordie Callahan, 26, Jessica Hunt, 31, and Daniel J. "DJ" Brown, 33, were charged with forced labor. Callahan also was charged with tampering with a witness in the investigation. A fourth person was also chart
The suspects had an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Cleveland and were ordered jailed until a bond hearing on Monday.
The 29-year-old woman was forced to do housework under the threat of harm to her and her child by her captors' pet python or pit bulls, authorities allege, and a menagerie of snakes was put in the terrified 5-year-old's face until she cried.
On several occasions, according to an FBI affidavit, the suspects injured the woman and ordered her to go to an emergency room for pain medication they would then take for themselves.
Andrew Hyde, who represented Callahan on related state kidnapping charges dismissed Tuesday as the federal case was announced, called the charges ludicrous and said the woman at the center of the alleged forced-labor plot moved in and out as she pleased.
"There was never any forced labor, any forced co-habitation. She was never forced to do anything. She used this story to get out of trouble she was in" with regard to a child-abuse allegation, Hyde said.
Hyde said county social service workers placed the girl with her mother when the woman was living with the three suspects.
Callahan's mother, Becky Callahan of Ashland, said in a phone interview that the allegations were "all lies." She said that the alleged victim was friends with her son and Hunt, her son's girlfriend, and that they tried to help the woman out by offering her a place to live because she didn't have a home.
A federal court lawyer for Callahan declined comment. A second defense attorney, Ed Bryan, said Hunt will plead not guilty and said there are credibility issues with the mother.
There was no immediate response to phone and email messages left for the attorney representing Brown.
According to an FBI affidavit, the mother and child were denied food at times or given leftovers; on one occasion when they hadn't eaten all day, the mother was given a plate of food and ordered to feed a pet dog.
The trio also looted the woman's bank account and public assistance, according to the affidavit.
The woman told investigators the trio learned of her plan to try to escape and punished her by shaving her hair into a Mohawk and using a marker to write "slut," "tramp" and "whore" on her face and chest. She was forced to clean up the hair without a broom or dust pan, according to the affidavit.
The woman was forced to do house work and shop for her captors and clean up after their pets, authorities said.
The three kept the mother and daughter under surveillance with a baby monitor, according to the affidavit, and at one point, the woman was lured back with ice cream.
"They treated her with such cruelty that it is hard to comprehend," Dettelbach said. "They tried to take away her human dignity."