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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Florida couple charged in forced labor and domestic servitude conspiracies

MIAMI - Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr. were arrested Wednesday morning on charges arising from a human trafficking scheme to hold Filipino nationals in forced labor at various southeast Florida country clubs and hotels following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led investigation.

Manuel, 41, and Baldonado, 46, owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation of Boca Raton, Fla., were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida. According to the indictment, Manuel and Baldonado conspired to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool. The indictment details the defendants conspired to hold the workers in their continued service, for little or no pay, and housed them in substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water.

ICE's Miami Office of Investigations Special Agent in Charge Anthony V. Mangione said, "Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights. These vicious conditions will not be tolerated in this country and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and vigorously investigate, identify and arrest the traffickers that exploit them and bring them to justice."

ICE special agents in Miami initiated an investigation in February 2008 after the Florida Office of the Attorney General's Economic Crimes Division provided information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), who thereafter contacted ICE.

The indictment alleges that the defendants used false promises to entice the Filipino nationals to incur debts to pay up-front recruitment fees and then compelled the workers to remain in the defendants' service, despite inadequate work or income to pay off the debts. Using a scheme of threats to have the workers arrested and deported with no way to repay their debts, the defendants also allegedly confiscated the workers' passports and restricted their freedom of movement and communications with outsiders.

Manuel is also charged with visa fraud and making false statements to the government to procure foreign labor certifications and visas under the H2B guest worker program.

This case was investigated by ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami and assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of State-Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Office of the Attorney General.

This case is being prosecuted by trial attorney Susan French of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaniek Maynard of the Southern District of Florida.