By Danny Fenster
A California couple was sentenced to 18 months each for harboring illegal aliens and forcing them to work in substandard conditions, the FBI said in a statement on Monday.
Maximino Morales, 46, and his wife, Melinda Morales, 48, of Paso Robles, Calif., had the victims working at their elder care facilities, according to the FBI. “The Filipino victims in this case were lured to the United States with false promises and were essentially performing slave labor,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr.
The couple, also natives of the Philippines, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, admitting they recruited the victims with promises of live-in caregiver work at the four elder care facilities they ran, known as “Four M’s, Inc.” A Philippines contact secured fake visas to get the victims to the US
“Some of the aliens worked alone in 24-hour shifts…as caregivers at one of the Four M’s elder care residential facilities for less than minimum wage,” according to plea agreements filed in this case. “All of the aliens lived in the care facilities, and some of the aliens slept in a closet, on a sofa, and in a walled-off portion of an unheated, attached garage.” Threatened with calls to the police or immigration officials if they tried to leave, the victims’ pay was credited against the “debt” they were told they owed, according to the FBI.
The operation ended when a concerned member of the community tipped of authorities. In addition to the prison sentences, the couple were ordered to pay $600,000 in restitution to nine victims.