Filipino Couple in LA Charged with Human Trafficking

Filipino Couple in LA Charged with Human Trafficking

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LOS ANGELES - A Filipino couple, arrested on Tuesday morning and charged with human trafficking, has posted bail and will be back in a Los Angeles U.S. District Federal Court house. The arraignment will be on April 26, according to the FBI.

Maximino "Max" Morales, 44, and his wife, Melinda Morales, 46, were released after posting a $75,000 bond and $50,000 bond, respectively. Max must wear an electronic monitoring device, according to the FBI.

The FBI arrested the Morales' in their Paso Robles home Tuesday morning after an investigation found that the couple allegedly smuggled Filipino nationals and forced them to work as caregivers in their nursing homes for little or no pay.

The couple owned four elder care facilities in Paso Robles, about a three hours north of Los Angeles. All four home care facilities have now closed and the 19 patients have either been brought back to their families or to other care homes.

According to the affidavit, the FBI launched an investigation last November after two of the forced laborers confided their plight to a family member of one of the residents of the care home, who then notified the FBI.

The federal complaint alleges that the victims were recruited by the couple with promises of work in the United States, and then smuggled into the United States on transit visas. Once the victims arrived in the United States, they were forced to work entire days for as many as seven days a week, with little pay. Additionally, the couple confiscated victims’ passports and threatened to harm their families and/or deport them if they left prior to paying off their debt.

"The defendants in this case allegedly lured victims with promises of legitimate work and a better life in the US, then smuggled them into this country through fraud and forced victims to work in rigorous, inhumane conditions, thereby depriving them of their basic civil rights," said Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

According to the affidavit, the caregivers worked 24-hour shifts with no regular days off, and slept in closets, hallways, and garages with no heat.

The couple, charged of harboring illegal aliens, faces a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in federal prison, per alien, according to the US Department of Justice.