Thursday, July 7, 2011
7 News Investigations: Trafficking Trouble
When you think of human trafficking you think of far away places. But the reality is it could be happening in your neighborhood. Now some workers are coming forward to tell their heartbreaking stories in a hopes of getting attention to the problem. 7's Craig Stevens with this special assignment report Trafficking Trouble.
WSVN -- Raul Ambat believed America was the land of opportunity.
Raul Ambat: "I came here for my family to work. To give my family a good future."
Raul and 38 others say they were lured to South Florida from their homeland of the Philippines by Sophia Manuel and her husband Alfonso Baldonado. The couple promised them visas, good paying jobs and nice housing.
Raul Ambat: "She promised us good work over time, everything."
But Raul says the promise of a better life was nothing more than a lie. He and the others say they ended up working for little or no pay all. 39 of them essentially held hostage crowded into a Boca Raton home.
Raul Ambat: "We sleep on the floor some in the house, some in the kitchen, one is in the garage."
Raul says the conditions they lived in were filthy. They were fed rotten vegetables and chicken gizzards. Another man who lived in the house was so traumatized he is afraid to show his face on camera.
Victim Off Camera: "When I lived there we were treated like an animals not like a human being. You don't deserve to live."
The men say they couldn't leave because their passports were confiscated and they were threatened. They'd be killed if they told anyone.
Victim Off Camera: "I could not go to sleep because thinking something happened to me or something is gonna happen to my friends. I don't know if they're going to kill us."
This went on for months until the wife of the Philippines' consulate general got a tip to check out the home where the men were living.
MaryLou Macatangay: "I've never even seen anything like it. I wouldn't even let my dog live like that. These Filipinos were brought in by these recruiters with a promise for another life and they were actually better off in the Philippines."
Marylou called Immigration and Customs Enforcement better known ICE. It's the federal agency responsible for shutting down human trafficking.
Carmen Pino: "It's a big problem here in South Florida because not only are we a magnet for it but we're also a major international entry point for it with the Miami International Airport. We have the seaport here. So it's kind of a perfect storm for human trafficking."
ICE raided the house. Manuel and Baldonado are now serving time in prison for conspiring to hold the Pilipino nationals for forced labor.
Carmen Pino: "They were brought over here with the hopes of getting a good job only to find themselves basically held as slaves and working for little to no money. For this organization that was reaping millions of dollars."
The case served as a wake-up call. For Florida lawmakers state representative Erik Fresen has proposed the Florida Safe Harbor Act to make sure those caught up in human trafficking rings are treated as 'ictims not criminals.
Erik Fresen: "I think now we have the perfect bill to move forward and to at least start the first step in recognizing and certainly applying law towards these victims."
For now, Raul is trying to forget the past and move forward.
Raul: "Now I'm working in a hotel near the beach so I'm working forty hours a week. Sometimes I have overtime so now I also can pay my debts so now I'm starting a new life it's good."
Marylou is making sure the boys as she affectionately calls them are getting the life in America they were promised.
MaryLou Macatangay: "I mean, you can see a smile on their face."
Craig Stevens: "If you suspect someone is being trafficked you can call the South Florida Trafficking Task Force at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.