Thursday, July 03, 2008

San Jose Couple Accused of Human Trafficking

From Mercury News:

By Leslie Griffy

Immigrants lured to California with promises of work by a San Jose couple found themselves forced into squalid living conditions and toiling long hours in local restaurants for little or no pay, federal prosecutors allege.

Paula Luna Alvarez and Carlos Contreras Del Carmen face counts of harboring illegal immigrants, Social Security fraud and international money laundering.

The charges are just the "tip of the iceberg," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Connell during the couple's bail hearing Thursday. The couple, he told U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Seeborg, were "directly involved with human trafficking."

One of their alleged victims said he and others were forced to work 14-hour days with little pay and made to sleep in the couple's garage, according to La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper.

Family and friends in court and at the couple's home near the Rose Garden neighborhood declined to comment on the case. However, defense attorney Alfredo Morales used the presence of about 20 supporters at the hearing to paint a picture of an entrepreneurial couple with deep roots in the community.

As he requested that Del Carmen's bail be lowered, Morales told the judge, "He has every reason to stay in this county."

FBI spokesman Joseph Schadler said the investigation is ongoing, and some court documents are sealed.

O'Connell said Del Carmen acted as the recruiter for the restaurant workers, persuading "people in Mexico with false promises to work." He'd then bring them here to live in "squalid conditions" in Alvarez's garage, the prosecutor said.

The couple, according to court documents, forged Social Security numbers for at least three illegal immigrants who lived in their home.

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