February 13 at 1:10 p.m. PST
LOS ANGELES – A husband and wife from Paso Robles who admitted harboring illegal aliens after they were smuggled into the United States and forced to work in sub-standard conditions at the couple’s elder care facilities were each sentenced today to 18 months in federal prison.
Maximino Morales, 46, and his wife, Melinda Morales, 48, each received 18-month sentences from United States District Judge Audrey B. Collins.
“The Filipino victims in this case were lured to the United States with false promises and were essentially performing slave labor,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “We are committed to protecting the basic civil rights of all people, no matter their status in the United States.”
The Morales, both natives of the Philippines, pleaded guilty last May to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The Morales, who operated four elder care facilities under the umbrella of “Four M’s, Inc.,” admitted that they recruited Filipino nationals to come to the United States with promises of work as live-in caregivers. A co-conspirator in the Philippines helped the aliens obtain fraudulent visas that allowed them to travel to the United States. After they arrived, “some of the aliens worked alone in 24-hour shifts…as caregivers at one of the Four M’s elder care residential facilities for less than minimum wage,” according to plea agreements filed in this case. “All of the aliens lived in the care facilities, and some of the aliens slept in a closet, on a sofa, and in a walled-off portion of an unheated, attached garage.” The aliens’ pay was credited against the “debt” they purportedly owed, and the aliens were told that police or immigration authorities would be summoned if they attempted to leave.
“The victims in this case were rescued after a concerned member of the community reported the tragic working and living conditions to officials,” said Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will continue to spread awareness by educating the community on how to identify the signs of labor exploitation, and urges the public to report suspected cases of illegal harboring or human trafficking.”
In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Collins ordered the Morales to pay $600,000 in restitution to nine Filipino victims who were not properly paid for the work they performed.
The FBI arrested Maximino and Melinda Morales on March 30, 2010 when special agents executed search warrants in Paso Robles.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which received assistance from the California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division and the United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.