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    United States Attorney's Office
    Central District of California

    Thom Mrozek
    Public Affairs Officer

    (213) 894-6947
    thom.mrozek@usdoj.gov



    Return to the 2009 Press Release Index
    Release No. 09-035

    March 24, 2009

    COUPLE PLEAD GUILTY IN ALIEN SMUGGLING SCHEME IN WHICH SOME WERE FORCED TO WORK AT ELDER CARE HOMES

    LOS ANGELES – The owner of two elder care homes in Long Beach has pleaded guilty to two forced labor offenses for bringing illegal aliens into the United States and forcing two of them to work at her businesses.

    Evelyn Pelayo, 52, a resident of Long Beach, pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon to forced labor and unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of forced labor. Pelayo owned two residences in Long Beach where she operated elderly care and boarding facilities called Vernon Way Care Home and Walton Care Home.

    In a plea agreement filed in federal court, Pelayo admitted that she paid a co-defendant $12,000 to smuggle two illegal aliens into the U.S. from the Philippines and then forced the two to work at her elder care homes after confiscating their passports and threatening to turn them over to authorities if they attempted to escape.

    Pelayo’s husband, Darwin Padolina, 56, pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon to harboring and concealing a third illegal alien for private financial gain. Padolina admitted that he concealed the alien for 10 years while the person worked as a domestic servant in his home.

    “Using fear and threats of reprisal, the defendants in this case exploited the dreams of foreign nationals who sought a better life in the United States,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “Instead of realizing the American Dream, the victims in this case were subjected to inhumane treatment that profited only the defendants. For forcing victims to work up to 24 hours a day, while keeping up to half of their meager salaries, Ms. Pelayo is now facing a lengthy prison sentence commensurate with her crimes.”

    Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, stated: “Evelyn Pelayo practiced a modern-day form of slavery, coercing employees to work in deplorable conditions for unfair wages. The Civil Rights Division will remain vigilant in finding and prosecuting those who prey on foreign nationals in this manner.”

    Two other defendants in the case, Rodolfo Demafeliz, 39, and his assistant, Rolleta Riazon, 28, both Philippine nationals, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to encourage and induce illegal aliens to enter the United States for the purpose of private financial gain. Demafeliz and Riazon have completed their sentences and have returned to the Philippines.

    According to the court documents, Pelayo recruited potential workers in the Philippines, promising them jobs in her elder care facilities. Once the victims agreed, Pelayo contacted Demafeliz, a Taekwondo martial arts instructor, who would enter the aliens in Taekwondo tournaments in the U.S. as a ruse to bring them into the country. Demafeliz obtained visas for the victims and provided them with limited martial arts training to make the visas appear legitimate.

    Once the aliens were brought to Southern California, Pelayo paid Demafliz $6,000 for each alien smuggled into the United States. However, Pelayo told the victims that she paid $12,000 and informed them that they would have to work at her elder care facilities until they had repaid her for their smuggling debt. Pelayo also told some victims that they would have to work for her for 10 years, even if their smuggling debts were repaid. Pelayo confiscated the victims' passports; discouraged victims from speaking with neighbors, patients, family members of patients and law enforcement officials; and threatened to contact police and immigration officials if they tried to escape. 

    The two elder care homes were shut down in April 2008, following the execution of federal search warrants.

    “Today's guilty pleas are a disturbing reminder that even in today's modern society vestiges of slavery still exist,” said Robert Schoch, Special Agent in Charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, said. “It is a sad reflection on human greed and heartlessness, when individuals believe they can egregiously exploit people from other countries and other cultures. ICE will continue to work aggressively to ensure that those who engage in these abusive practices are made to pay for their crimes.”

    Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, commented: “This case is only the latest example of modern-day slavery, and a grim reminder that this criminal behavior is practiced in our local neighborhoods. The Human Trafficking Task Force in Los Angeles has made consistent progress in identifying and dismantling trafficking organizations, as well as drawing much-needed attention to this abhorrent crime problem.”

    Pelayo and Padolina pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Gary A. Feess, who is scheduled to sentence the defendants on June 22. At sentencing, Pelayo faces a statutory maximum penalty of 25 years in federal prison, and Padolina faces a maximum possible penalty of 10 years in prison.

    The case against Pelayo and her husband was investigated by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sandy Leal and DOJ Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Kayla Bakshi.

    In Los Angeles, the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General, the United States Attorney's Office and the Los Angeles Police Department, along with several community groups, comprise the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, whose mission is to improve tactics for identifying and rescuing trafficking victims, provide assistance to victims and prosecute those responsible for human trafficking. The Human Trafficking Task Force in Los Angeles has established a toll-free hotline – (800) 655-4095 – which victims and individuals with information about victims are encouraged to call. Information may be provided anonymously and will be kept confidential.

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    Release No. 9-035
    Return to the 2009 Press Release Index