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Couple sentenced in Filipino ‘slavery’ smuggling case

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POSTED February 13, 2012 8:09 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A couple who smuggled immigrants from the Philippines to work as virtual slaves in an elder-care business were sentenced Monday to 18 months each in federal prison.

Maximino Morales, 46, and his wife, Melinda Morales, 48, also were ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution to nine people they smuggled into the country, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

"The Filipino victims in this case were lured to the United States with false promises and were essentially performing slave labor," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. said in the statement.

The Paso Robles couple pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants.

The Moraleses, who were born in the Philippines and are U.S. citizens, operated four elder-care facilities. They recruited Filipinos to work as live-in caregivers. Phony visas were arranged so they could come to the U.S., prosecutors said.

Once they arrived, some immigrants worked 24-hour shifts alone, according to plea agreements filed in the case.

They lived in the care facilities, some sleeping in a closet, on a sofa or in a walled-off portion of an unheated garage, according to the plea agreements.

Their pay was credited against their smuggling debts, and the workers were told that authorities would be called if they tried to leave, prosecutors said.

Authorities eventually were tipped off to the working and living conditions, and the FBI arrested the couple in March 2010.

 

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