André Birotte Jr., United States Attorney
Central District of California
A Paso Robles couple was arrested this morning on suspicion of recruiting and smuggling Fillipino nationals to the United States, and then allegedly harboring the victims by forcing them to labor in sub-standard working conditions using tactics including threats of deportation announced Steven Martinez, Assistant Director of the FBI in Los Angeles, and André Birotte Jr., the United States Attorney in Los Angeles. Today’s announcement was made on behalf of multiple agencies that assisted during the investigation and during the execution of today’s arrest and search warrants.
Maximino Morales, 44, and Melinda Morales, 46, of Paso Robles, were taken into custody this morning by FBI agents without incident. The pair was charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last Friday with knowingly and intentionally concealing, harboring and shielding illegal aliens within the United States.
This investigation was initiated when the FBI received information concerning allegations involving the abuse of workers employed at four residential care facilities for the elderly located in Paso Robles, California. Maximino and Melinda Morales, both originally from the Philippines, allegedly lured Filipino nationals from the Philippines with promises of legitimate work and a better life.
Agents executed federal search warrants today at the elder care facilities located in Paso Robles. There are an estimated 19 patients being treated at the four facilities. Investigators found evidence that at least three victims were smuggled into the United States and forced to work in the homes. Several public health and social workers from various agencies were present at the search locations to ensure the well-being of the patients at the facilities, and to make a determination as to whether the locations will remain open.
“The defendants in this case allegedly lured victims with promises of legitimate work and a better life in the U.S., then smuggled them into this country through fraud and forced victims to work in rigorous, inhumane conditions, thereby depriving them of their basic civil rights,” said Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “Exploiting foreign nationals through harboring is an appalling crime with serious consequences, and the FBI and our partners will continue to investigate alleged offenders and raise awareness in American communities.”
The complaint alleges that the victims were recruited by the defendants with promises of work in the United States, and then smuggled into the United States on transit visas. Once the victims arrived in the United States, they were forced to work entire days for as many as seven days a week, with little pay. Additionally, the couple confiscated victims’ passports and threatened to harm their families and/or deport them if they left their employ prior to paying off their debt.
Both Maximino and Melinda Morales will have an initial appearance before a United States Magistrate in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles as early as this afternoon.
"The U.S. passport and visa are two of the most coveted travel documents in the world. There are foreign nationals who fraudulently acquire U.S. passports and visas to carry out criminal activities, including terrorism, inside our borders. These crimes threaten the national security of the United States, plain and simple,” said Jeffrey W. Culver, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.
The charge of harboring illegal aliens carries a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in federal prison, per alien.
The FBI was assisted during the investigation by the California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division and the United States Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Additional agencies assisted during today’s operation, including officers with the Paso Robles Police Department; the Victim/Witness Assistance Center for the San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office; the Department of Social Services, San Luis Obispo County; Long Term Care Ombudsman Services of San Luis Obispo; San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department; and the San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health Services.
This case will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
FBI: Laura Eimiller: 310 420-6441 (cell) or
Lourdes Arocho: 310 628-2023 (Spanish Speaker)
United States Attorney’s Office: Thom Mrozek: 213 894-6947
U.S. Department of State: Jim Finkle: 571 345-2504
California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division: Lizelda Lopez: 916 657-2268
Paso Robles Police Department: Lt. Tim Murphy: 805 227-7444