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Long Beach couple pleads guilty to smuggling immigrants

March 25, 2009 | 11:24 am

A Long Beach couple has pleaded guilty to smuggling people from the Philippines into the United States and forcing them to work at the couple's  home and two elder care homes, federal investigators said today.

Evelyn Pelayo, 53, pleaded guilty Monday to forced labor and the unlawful conduct of holding passports to further forced labor. In a plea agreement, Pelayo admitted she paid co-defendant Rodolfo Deafeliz, 39, $6,000 to smuggle two undocumented immigrants into the U.S. and then forced them to work at her elder care homes, Vernon Way Care Home and Walton Care Home. She confiscated their passports and threatened to turn them over to authorities if they tried to escape.

Her husband, Darwin Padolina, 56, also pleaded guilty to harboring a third undocumented immigrant for private financial gain. Padolina admitted he concealed the undocumented person for 10 years while the person worked as a domestic servant.

According to court documents, Pelayo recruited workers in the Philippines, promising them jobs at two of her elder care homes. The homes were shut down last April when the couple and two others were arrested by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.

According to officials, Deafeliz, a taekwondo instructor, told immigration authorities his recruits were his "students" and they were traveling to the United States to participate in martial arts competitions.

Once in Southern California, Pelayo would pay Deafeliz $6,000 a person, then charge the immigrants double the amount. She forced them to work for her for a minimum of 10 years as they repaid her, investigators said. Pelayo also confiscated the victims' passports and verbally abused them, threatening to contact police and immigration officials with false allegations if they tried to escape, authorities said.

"This case is only the latest example of modern-day slavery, and a grim reminder that this criminal behavior is practiced in our local neighborhoods," said Salvador Hernandez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

Pelayo faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in federal prison, and her husband faces a maximum possible penalty of 10 years, FBI officials said. The couple is scheduled to be sentenced in June before U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess.

-- Ruben Vives