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Couple Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Filipino Nationals Into The US

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(credit: Getty Images)

(credit: Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) – A Paso Robles couple pleaded guilty today to federal charges of harboring Filipino nationals who were smuggled into the United States and employed in elder care facilities.

Federal prosecutors said Maximino Morales, 45, and Melinda Morales, 48, both natives of the Philippines, recruited undocumented immigrants to come to the United States to work as live-in caregivers at the four elder care facilities they operated.

“The Filipino workers illegally brought to this country with promises of decent jobs were instead subjected to abusive working conditions and threats designed to keep them working for less than the minimum wage,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

The couple entered a plea agreement into federal court in Los Angeles to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, a felony that carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. According to the Morales’ plea, some of the workers were left alone to work 24-hour shifts for less than minimum wage. All of the aliens lived in the care facilities, and some slept in a closet, on a sofa, and in a walled-off portion of an unheated, attached garage.

The immigrants’ pay was credited against the “debt” they purportedly owed for being brought to the U.S., and they were told that police or immigration officials would arrest them if they tried to flee, according to court documents.

“The victims in this case displayed tremendous courage in coming forward, and their actions will likely embolden other victims to report these crimes, as well as raise awareness with others who may not recognize signs of alien smuggling and potential human trafficking,” said Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

As part of their plea agreements, Maximino and Melinda Morales agreed to pay restitution of at least $500,000 to 10 Filipinos who were not properly compensated for their work, prosecutors said.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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