A Florida couple pleaded guilty to conspiring to hold 39 Filipino employees against their will working in country clubs and hotels, the US Justice Department said Friday.

Sophia Manuel, 41, and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., 45, were owners of a labor contracting service based in the Florida city of Boca Raton.

Manuel and Baldonado “conspired to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool, by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts,” read a Department of Justice statement, quoting court documents.

“The defendants then compelled the victims’ labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported, knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.”

Once the workers arrived at Manuel and Baldonado’s Florida residence, the couple confiscated their passports, then “housed them in overcrowded, substandard conditions without adequate food or drinking water; put them to work at area country clubs and hotels for little or no pay; required them to remain in the defendants’ service, unpaid when there was insufficient work.”

They ordered them not to leave the premises without permission and “threatened to have the workers arrested and deported for complaining about these terms and conditions,” the statement said.

Manuel also pleaded guilty to lying in an application filed with the US Labor Department to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program.

“These defendants victimized vulnerable individuals for profit,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

Agencies involved in investigating the case include Immigration and Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, and the US Department of Labor.


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