California Couple Plead Guilty in Alien Smuggling Scheme in Which Some Were Forced to Work at Elder Care Homes
WASHINGTON – The owner of two elder care homes in Long Beach, Calif., has pleaded guilty on March 23, 2009 to bringing undocumented aliens into the United States and forcing two of them to work at her businesses.
Evelyn Pelayo, 53, a resident of Long Beach, pleaded guilty on March 23, 2009 to forced labor and unlawful conduct of holding passports to further 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 $6,000 to smuggle two undocumented aliens into the United States from the Philippines and then forced them 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 on March 23, 2009 to harboring a third undocumented alien for private financial gain. Padolina admitted that he concealed the undocumented alien for 10 years while the person worked as a domestic servant.
"Defendant Pelayo practiced a modern-day form of slavery, coercing employees to work in deplorable conditions for unfair wages," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division will remain vigilant in finding and prosecuting those who prey on foreign nationals in this manner."
"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 U.S. 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, everyday, while keeping about half of their meager salaries, Ms. Pelayo is now facing a lengthy prison sentence commensurate with her crimes."
Two other defendants in the case, Rodolfo Ebrole Demafeliz Jr., 39, and Rolleta Riazon, 28, both of the Philippines, previously pleaded guilty for conspiracy to bring aliens into the United States. 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 undocumented aliens in Taekwondo tournaments in the United States 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 per victim. She then doubled that smuggling fee and charged each of the victims $12,000. Pelayo instructed the victims that they would have to work for her for a minimum of 10 years, and during that time they would be charged debt repayments. Pelayo confiscated the victims’ passports and verbally abused them, threatening to contact police with false allegations and immigration officials if they tried to escape.
The two elder care homes were shut down in April 2008, following the execution of the federal search warrants. At the time, 10 elderly patients were rescued and moved to other facilities.
Robert Schoch, Special Agent in Charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in Los Angeles, said: "Today’s guilty pleas are a disturbing reminder that even in today's modern society vestiges of slavery still exist. 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 U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, who is scheduled to sentence the defendants on June 22, 2009. 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 U.S. Attorney Sandy Leal and 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 U.S. 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 – that victims and individuals with information about victims are encouraged to call. Information may be provided anonymously and will be kept confidential.