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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Florida couple pleads guilty to forced labor conspiracy of 39 Filipino guest workers

MIAMI - Sophia Manuel, 41, and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., 45, owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation, a labor contracting service, pleaded guilty to conspiring to hold 39 Filipino nationals in compelled service in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Manuel also pleaded guilty to making false statements in 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.

According to documents presented in court, the defendants conspired to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool, by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts. The 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.

After the victims arrived at the defendants' Boca Raton, Fla. residence, the defendants confiscated their passports, housed them in overcrowded, substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water, put them to work at area country clubs and hotels for little or no pay, required them to remain in the defendants' service, unpaid when there was insufficient work, ordered them not to leave the premises without permission and an escort and threatened to have the workers arrested and deported for complaining about these terms and conditions.

"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 Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Miami. "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."

This investigation was conducted by ICE HSI in Miami, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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 Civil Rights Division's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaniek Maynard.