The Knuckleheads of the Day award

Today’s winners are Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado. They get the award for the following.

A Boca Raton couple and their Miami employment services enticed workers from the Philippines to travel for work in South Florida but failed to deliver promised jobs and forced as many as 30 people to live in a single house, the state charged in a suit filed Thursday.

About 50 people traveled from the Philippines to the United States in November, each paying between $3,000 and $8,000 to Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado of Boca Raton, who promised free housing and full-time jobs in food service at a Boca Raton country club from the fall of 2007 through July 1.

But when they arrived in South Florida, nearly 30 were forced to share a three-bedroom house, and instead of working at a country club, they were sent to work part-time for $6.67 an hour at various clubs throughout Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, the suit alleges.

Manuel and Baldonado also are accused of stealing the workers’ passports as well as airplane tickets the workers purchased for their trips home later this year, according to the suit.

“These people came to Florida believing they would have a chance at the American dream of earning a decent wage to provide for their families,” Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a statement. “Instead, they were trapped in low-wage positions and have had to depend upon handouts from friends to survive because of the apparently deceptive manner in which they were recruited.”

Despicable, making slaves out of people. This couple are church goers.(They’re Filipino, and as I know from being married to one, many are devout Roman Catholics) How Christian enslaving people. These immigrant workers were discovered at a church asking for assistance. That’s how the abuse was discovered.

The workers were threatened with deportation if they complained. Based on this, and the difficulty Filipinos have when trying to get a visa to the US, I’m thinking these workers were brought here legally. Legitimate employers have threatened to report legal Filipino workers to immigration if they disobeyed them. My sister-in-law arrived in the US in 1999 on a work visa and was given a green card. In Oct. 2000 she had her employer bounce a payroll check on her. When Leonette complained, a supervisor threatened to report her to immigration. I know of two other similar cases. In Leonette’s case, her employer was a nation wide owner of nursing homes, listed on the stock exchange. Big companies can bully employees not just little outfits like in this story.

‘m putting the rest of the story below the fold. Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado are today’s Knuckleheads of the Day.

Named in the suit were Manuel, Baldonado and their companies, Quality Staffing Services Corp. and DAR Workforce Solutions USA Inc. of Miami.

The complaint also names the Boca Woods Country Club Association Inc. and Boca Woods Property Owners’ Association Inc., as owners of the club.

The state is seeking penalties including $10,000 per violation and injunctions against the companies and their owners, prohibiting them from engaging in any business activity involving employment of temporary workers.

Manuel and Baldonado could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for Boca Woods said the club would not comment on pending litigation.

Marylou Macatangay and her husband, Angelo Macatangay, honorary consulate general of the Philippines, learned about the group because someone they knew noticed the workers at a local church. The workers told church members that they had no food, and they asked for donations so they could eat.

Marylou Macatangay drove to Boca Raton from her Fort Lauderdale home to meet with them. She learned they had arrived in South Florida in November and that 28 of them were forced to stay in a house on Buttonwood Lane in Boca Raton.

People were sleeping in the yard, the garage, in piles of garbage and on the floor. They eventually moved to another house on Northwest Second Court, which Marylou Macatangay said Manuel banned them from leaving.

“When I went, they had no food. Most of them were sleeping on the floor. They were sorting through garbage for food,” she said. “We brought them food, pillows and blankets. They were very depressed. One man broke his hand.”

Thirteen members of the group are now in the Fort Lauderdale area, where the Macatangays have found them temporary homes.

Marylou Macatangay said most are worried about their families because some borrowed money from loan sharks to come to the United States. Because they haven’t paid the debts, they’re worried their families will be harmed.

“Lenders are coming to their houses, some of them are afraid of going back,” she said. “These people are from the countryside, and they can be easily intimidated. They’re all so sweet, but you can look in their eyes and know what they’re going through. They’re worried.”

She said the workers were threatened with deportation if they complained.

Officials with the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking asserted that the Filipino workers were victims of human trafficking.

*****

“Imagine coming to America, a place they’ve dreamed of for years, and this is what they get when they come here,” Macatangay said. “The Filipino population right now is in shock.”

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