Monday, April 07, 2008

3 Trafficking Arrests in Los Angeles

From CBS2:

LOS ANGELES- Two men and a woman were in custody on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking. Charges allege that the suspects brought Filipinos to the United States by claiming they were martial arts students, then forced them to work in two local elder care facilities in Long Beach, according to the FBI.

Rodolfo Demafeliz, 39, Rolleta Riazon, 28 -- both Philippine nationals -- were arrested on Thursday as they were about to board a flight to the Philippines, the FBI reported.

Evelyn Pelayo, 51, of Long Beach, was arrested on Thursday at her home.

According to the complaints, Filipinos were lured to the United States, where they were forced to work -- in a "threatening and abusive environment" -- to pay their "travel expenses."

Pelayo owns two Long Beach homes in which she operated elderly care and boarding facilities for senior citizens with various ailments.

Investigators allege Pelayo recruited workers in the Philippines with the promise of work in her elder care facilities, and that once a victim agreed, Pelayo contacted Demafeliz, who is a Taekwondo martial arts instructor.

Demafeliz allegedly entered the victims, whom he described as his students, into American Taekwondo tournaments and obtained visas for them.

Investigators said he provided limited martial arts training to the victims, but none ever participated in any tournaments.

Agents identified three victims who were working at the two elderly care facilities. Three other victims were found today during the execution of search warrants.

According to the complaints, the victims were forced to work nearly 24 hours a day and were advised that it would be necessary for them to work for several years while they repaid their "travel debt."

The victims allegedly were threatened, and their passports were kept from them.

"The luring of persons into the United States on the promise of legitimate work and a better life, only to be held in what is, essentially, modern-day slavery is, regrettably, taking place in our community," said Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

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