Filipino couple sentenced to maximum prison time for human trafficking in Florida

Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado, the married Filipino owners of a labor contracting service in Florida named Quality Staffing Services Corporation, were sentenced to maximum prison time for human trafficking on December 10 (U.S. time), reports ABS-CBNNews.com. Manuel, the said mastermind, will serve 78 months in jail while Baldonado was sentenced to 51 months. A three-year probation period awaits them when they are released.

According to ABS-CBNNews.com, the couple pleaded guilty to forcing at least 39 Filipino workers to work in country clubs and hotels under the threat of arrest and deportation. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they made "false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up-front recruitment fees."

The couple had 28 of the workers live in one house, and many of them became "jobless, hungry and deep in debt in the Philippines," according to ABS-CBNNews.com. Jhoanna Pio, one of the workers, said, "We said enough was enough. We ran away and told the authorities we needed some help."

ABS-CBNNews.com said the case is considered a landmark one because it is "the first visa fraud case successfully prosecuted in the state of Florida." The Department of Homeland Security is now processing T Visas for the Filipino workers, which would allow them to remain and legally work in the U.S.

For more on this story, log on to ABS-CBNNews.com and ICE.gov.

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