Headlines

California Husband and Wife Guilty of Keeping Slaves

| by DOJ

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.

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