Florida Couple Charged in Forced Labor and Document Servitude Conspiracies
WASHINGTON – Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr. have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges arising from a human trafficking scheme to hold Filipino nationals in forced labor in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida, the Justice Department announced.
According to the indictment, defendants Manuel, 41, and Baldonado, 46, owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation of Boca Raton, Fla., 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.
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, confiscation of the workers’ passports and rules and controls restricting the workers’ freedom of movement and communications with outsiders.
Sophia Manuel is also charged with visa fraud and making false statements to the government to procure foreign labor certifications and visas under the H2B guestworker program.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); 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 state of Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and the state of 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.