By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have charged three people in connection with a human-trafficking scheme involving Filipino nationals brought into the US and forced to work in two local residential elder care facilities.
The FBI arrested Filipino Rodolfo Demafeliz, 39, and his assistant, Rolleta Riazon, 28, Thursday morning prior to boarding a flight to Manila, according to an FBI press release. The third person involved, Evelyn Pelayo, was also arrested at her residence in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The three were charged after criminal complaints filed in the US District Court in Los Angeles on April 2.
“The luring of persons into the United States on the promise of legitimate work and a better life, only to be held in what is, essentially, modern-day slavery is, regrettably, taking place in our community,” said Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “The charges allege that these victims were forced into debt bondage under threat of arrest or deportation, so the defendants could profit.”
According to the complaint, Demafeliz and Riazon recruited Filipinos in the Philippines with promises of employment at Pelayo’s nursing homes in Long Beach. The victims then were forced to work to pay for their “travel expenses,“ in a threatening and abusive environment.
The complaint also describes in detail how the alleged scheme was carried out.
According to the FBI release, Pelayo would allegedly recruit potential workers in the Philippines to work in her elder care facilities.
Once the victim agreed, Pelayo contacted Demafeliz. Demafeliz, a Taekwondo martial arts instructor, posed the victim to immigration officials as a Taekwondo student competing in a tournament for Visa purposes to bring them to the United States. The FBI added that there is no evidence to indicate that any of the victims ever participated in any tournaments in the US.
The complaint goes on to say that once the victims arrived, they were “forced to work 24 hours a day and advised that it would be necessary for them to work for several years while they repaid their travel debt.” If the victims tried to leave, Pelayo allegedly threatened to contact the police and ICE officials to deport them.
FBI Officials said that Pelayo allegedly held the victims’ passports and verbally abused them. She also instructed them to lie about the amount of hours they worked when questioned by officials with the Department of Social Services, who monitor the homes for the elderly.
During the investigation, the FBI’s Human Trafficking Task Force identified three victims who were working at the two elderly care facilities and an additional three workers were found during the execution of search warrants.
The victims have been placed in various shelters, according to the FBI.
“Forced servitude is an unconscionable crime and, as this case shows, it can take many forms,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles.
“Holding people against their will and making them work under inhumane conditions amounts to modern day slavery. ICE is working closely with the FBI and its other law enforcement partners to ensure that crimes like these do not go unchecked or unpunished,” he added.
Demafeliz, Riazon and Pelayo are being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.