Paso couple arrested for human trafficking
March 30, 2010
A Paso Robles couple was arrested Tuesday morning by FBI agents, charged with smuggling Filipino nationals into the United States and forciing them to work at the four elder care homes the couple owns.
According to a federal affidavit, the indentured laborers “worked 24-hour shifts; did not receive regular days off; slept in hallways, garages and closets; and had their passports confiscated” by Max Morales, 44, and Melinda Morales, 46.
The Morales own four assisted living facilities in Paso Robles, including the Meadows, Meadowlark, Starling Residential Care and Irene’s Board and Care.
Investigators say the pair lured Filipino nationals from the Philippines with promises of legitimate work and a better life.
Max Morales lent Filipino nationals between $3,000 and $8,000 to pay a smuggling service as well as the cost of their air fare. Morales would charge his indentured servants interest on the money he had spent bringing them to Paso Robles.
Upon the arrival of his indentured servants, Morales would confiscate passports until debts were repaid. For more than a year, one caregiver worked unpaid for Morales while all of her wages, $1,000 per month, went to paying off her debt.
According to the affidavit, Morales ordered his caregivers to follow his rules:
– Workers are not to talk to neighbors or the family members of residents.
– Workers should not take public transportation because of police checkpoints throughout Paso Robles.
– Workers are not to go against the Morales because they are powerful and wealthy people who could make trouble for their families.
– Workers should lie to Social Service representatives and tell them that two caregivers worked with each six patients during the day when actually only one caregiver was available.
Federal agents were notified when two of the forced laborers confided their situation to family members of one of the residents.
Max and Melinda Morales were charged with knowingly and intentionally concealing, harboring and shielding illegal aliens within the United States. The charge carries a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in federal prison, per alien.