Prosecutors in California have charged a woman they refer to as a Saudi princess for the alleged human trafficking of a Kenyan woman.
Tony Rackauckas, the Orange County District Attorney, on Wednesday identified 42-year-old Meshael Alayban as a Saudi princess charged with one count of human trafficking. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.
Alayban was arrested after the Kenyan woman carrying a suitcase flagged down a bus on Tuesday and told a passenger of the conditions she worked in. The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the Irvine property where Alayban and her family were staying, authorities said.
The 30-year-old woman told authorities she was hired in Kenya in 2012 and her passport was taken from her on arrival in Saudi Arabia. She was forced to work excessive hours and was paid less than she was promised and not allowed to leave, authorities said.
"This is not a contract dispute," Rackauckas told the court and likened the case to slavery. “This is holding someone captive against their will."
$5 million bail
A judge set bail at $5 million for Alayban and required her to submit to GPS monitoring. He also banned her from leaving the county without permission.
Alayban did not appear in court in Santa Ana. Her lawyer, Paul Meyer, said the case was a contractual dispute and argued his client should not be assigned a ransom-like bail solely because she was rich.
He said she had been travelling to the US since she was a child, owned properties here and had given her word she would address the allegations.
“This is a domestic work hours dispute,” he said.
Rackauckas had asked the judge to deny bail, or set it at $20 million, saying he doubted anything less would guarantee a Saudi princess would show up in court. He said the Saudi consulate had already offered to cover $1 million in bail initially set after her arrest.
Police say Alayban's family travelled to the US in May with the victim and four women from the Philippines.
'$220 a month pay'
The victim had signed a two-year contract with an employment agency guaranteeing she would be paid $1,600 a month to work eight hours a day, five days a week. But starting in March 2012, she was forced to cook, clean and do other household chores for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and was paid only $220, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say the victim's passport was taken from her, and she wasn't allowed to return to Kenya. In May, she was brought to the US and given her passport only to pass through customs, prosecutors allege.
Once here, she was forced to tend to at least eight people in four apartments in the same Irvine complex.
Four other women left the home voluntarily with police once authorities arrived, and no charges have been filed in connection with their circumstances. Police said there are no indications of physical abuse.