Paso Robles couple pleads to harboring illegal aliens

May 7, 2011

A Paso Robles couple pleaded guilty late this afternoon to federal charges of harboring illegal aliens who were smuggled into the United States and worked under sub-standard conditions at the couple’s elder care facilities.

Maximino Morales, 45, and Melinda Morales, 48, of Paso Robles, each pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, a felony charge that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

“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 United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “We are committed to protecting workers, no matter their status in the United States. Those who try to circumvent our nation’s immigration and employment laws for financial gain will be prosecuted and punished.”

The  Morales, both natives of the Philippines, operated four elder care facilities under the umbrella of Four M’s, Inc. They recruited Filipino nationals to come to the United States with promises of work as live-in caregivers.

According to their plea agreements, an associate 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,” both defendants admitted in their plea agreements. “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 case against Mr. and Mrs. Morales reflects the importance the FBI places in investigations involving smuggled workers and possible civil rights violations,” said Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “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.”

As part of their plea agreements Maximino and Melinda Morales have agreed to pay restitution of at least $500,000 to approximately ten Filipinos who were not properly paid for the work they performed.

The FBI arrested the Morales on March 30, 2010 when special agents executed search warrants in Paso Robles.
Maximino and Melinda Morales pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank, who is scheduled to sentence the defendants on September 19.

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.

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My name is shelby. I live 4 houses down from the Morales’ in Paso Robles Ca, I have known them for 4 years now and I was not aware of the going ons. I woke up that morning more than a year ago with the FBI outside of my home. I came outside and saw guns, Tv crews and their vans. I saw tears from families and shock on the faces of my neighbors. .I was confused.. I asked Monica and Micah, Melinda and Maximino’s children and she told me what happened. I understand where the FBI’s coming from.. but what I don’t understand is how this could have happened. they were a happy family, their children are extreamly mature for their age and I’ve been in the home before. There was nothing odd about the home. . no one slept in any closets. no one was up 24 hours. the Workers “who were paid so little” were given the independence to leave inside and out of the home as they pleased. Even one of the workers would go jogging around the block sometimes and stop to say hi and have small talk while I played basketball outside my home. you guys see heartless traffickers who were cruel and abusive to immigrants, but I see very differently first hand. I had experience. Have the benifit of the doubt people. there are flaws in the justice system, I can honestly say I believe these people are innocent in a huge predicament. I’ve had false accusations. who hasen’t? let’s face it. there ARE flaws.

I hear you, shelbycd. While this does not make what the Morales’ did right (by our laws or others), unless someone forced them at gunpoint to deal with a criminal in their native country, obtain a fake visa, bored the plane/boat, show up and stay and work under these conditions, one has to understand that often the “sweat shop employee” is having a better life than prior.

I remember when John Stossel did a special on sweatshops which basically went over to the countries where the workers were “being exploited” – and the locals were shocked that it was exploitation, since the sweatshops often paid twice what other jobs paid. And no one forced them to work in the sweatshop; and when political correctness closed one down, child prostitution skyrocketed in that area.

We’re too well fed and work too little in this country, and sometimes we forget that even our worst job, at the lowest wage is better than many people have in their countries.

ALL THAT SAID, if there was subterfuge on the part of the Morales’ and their accomplice(s) overseas, then that would be a different story. We may never know.

Pay $500,000 restitution as part of a plea bargain?

Do they have that much cash?

Where are they gonna get that kind of money from, the Philipines?

Getting a settlement is one thing, collection is another. My guess is that they will take off as soon as possible, flee the country and skip out on any collection.

Also, the way I read it, the $500,000 is for all of the employees combined, not each? So divided by 10, that’s $50K per person… too bad that couldn’t be a “debt” that they work off at the same rate they were giving… hehe.

In Micronesia (Palau) Philipino’s are treated like second class citizens My stepmother’s daughter Lola Reklai Meek has a philipino maid who works for NOTHING or so I have been told and she watches her daughter so she can do whatever That is how cheap the labor is and sadly it is the Philipino’s who are being trafficked in Palau Sad for these people you mentioned in your article Hope these people are convicted and if there is more to this I hope those in charge will pursue an investigation.