Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas charged a Saudi princess Wednesday with one count of human trafficking for allegedly holding a domestic worker against her will and forcing her to work at an Irvine, Calif., condominium. If convicted, 42-year-old Meshael Alayban faces up to 12 years in prison.
Police arrested Alayban after a Kenyan woman flagged down a bus Tuesday and told a passenger she thought she was a human trafficking victim. The passenger contacted police, who searched the condo where Alayban and her family were staying.
The 30-year-old Kenyan woman, whose name has not been released, told authorities she had signed a two-year contract with an employment agency. It promised $1,600 a month to work eight hours a day, five days a week. But when she arrived in Saudi Arabia in March 2012, her employer took her passport from her and barred her from leaving—forcing her to cook, clean and do other household chores for 16 hours a day, seven days a week. The woman only earned $220 for her work.
She came to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia in May with Alayban’s family, who returned her passport just long enough for the Kenyan to pass through customs. Although police said they found no evidence of physical abuse, the woman was forced to wash dishes, cook, clean, do laundry, and iron for at least eight people in four apartments in the Irvine complex.
Rackauckas likened the case to slavery in a bail hearing Wednesday: “This is not a contract dispute. … This is holding someone captive against their will.”
It’s the first forced labor case brought in Orange County after Californians voted for a human trafficking proposition in November. The ballot increased fines and sentences for human trafficking and requires those convicted of sex trafficking to register as sex offenders and disclose internet activity.
Police say Alayban’s family traveled to the U.S. with the victim and four women from the Philippines, who voluntarily left the home with police when they arrived. Police chief David Maggard Jr. said the Filipino women wanted to be free, but that the police haven’t filed charges in their case.
An Orange County judge set bail at $5 million for Alayban, who is one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, and required her to submit to GPS monitoring. He also banned her from leaving the county without prior authorization.
Alayban’s attorney called the case a contractual dispute and argued his client shouldn’t be assigned a ransom-like bail solely because she is rich. He said she has traveled to the U.S. since she was a child, owns properties here and promised to address the allegations.
Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations in Los Angeles, said he hoped the case would encourage other trafficking victims to trust in law enforcement.
Alayban is set to be arraigned in court Thursday.