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Boca Raton couple admits to conspiring to enslave workers

By Palm Beach

MIAMI — A Boca Raton couple, owners of a labor contracting service, have pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired to hold 39 Filipino guest workers in forced labor, confiscating their passports and threatening to have them arrested if they complained. 

Sophia Manuel, 41, and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., 45, owners of Quality Staffing Services Corp.,  worked the 39 victims in country clubs and hotels throughout South Florida. Manuel also pleaded guilty to making false statements in an application she filed with the Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal guest worker program.

According to documents presented in court, the couple would con the workers into racking up debts in the Philippines. Once in the U.S., they used the debt as leverage against them, threatening to have the workers arrested and deported home, where they faced serious problems and even prison because of their unpaid debts.

The victims would be taken to Manuel’s and Baldonado’s home in Boca Raton, where the couple would confiscate their passports; house them in overcrowded, substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water. They would be put them to work at area country clubs and hotels for little or no pay.

Manuel and Baldonado required the victims to remain in their service, unpaid when there was insufficient work; ordered them not to leave the house without permission and an escort; and threatened to have the workers arrested and deported if they complained.

“Each day, people leave behind their families and homelands in search of freedom and a better life in the United States. The individuals in this case were no different,” said Wilfredo Ferrer, U.S. attorney for South Florida. “They came here seeking a better life, but found their dream of freedom and a better life transformed into a real-life nightmare of servitude and fear. With today's guilty pleas, we come one step closer to punishing the defendants for their crimes.”

“These defendants victimized vulnerable individuals for profit,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “Forced labor robs victims of their freedom and their dignity, and it will not be tolerated in this country.”

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