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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
12/10/2010

Florida couple sentenced in forced labor conspiracy to exploit Filipino guest workers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation, a labor contracting service, were sentenced Friday in West Palm Beach for conspiring to hold approximately 39 Filipino nationals in forced service to work in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida following an investigation led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Manuel also was sentenced for making false statements on an application she filed with the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program. Manuel was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison and Baldonado to 51 months in prison.

Manuel and Baldonado previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up-front recruitment fees. Defendants then compelled the victims' labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported, knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.

"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," said ICE Director John Morton. "These deplorable 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 arrest the traffickers that exploit them."

"These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of forced labor where victims have been robbed of their freedom and dignity."

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, "Today's sentencing reminds us that America remains a land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, not of servitude and fear. Forced labor is illegal and we will enforce the laws that protect our immigrant communities from abuse."

This case was investigated by ICE HSI in Miami, FBI, U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Florida Office of the Attorney General.

This case was prosecuted by trial attorney Susan French of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaniek Maynard.