NEW YORK — Two couples from New York, including a newspaper publisher, are being sued for human trafficking by a woman who filed charges of forced labor and false imprisonment against them.
Rosenda Millabangco Gonzaga sued Joy and Chris McCarthy and Linda and Bert Pelayo, in Manhattan Federal Court, according to a report in Courthouse News Service. The maid alleged “human trafficking, forced labor, false imprisonment and other charges.” The FilAm learned that Joy McCarthy is the daughter of Bert and Linda Pelayo, publishers of The Filipino Reporter, a community paper in the New York Tri State that recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Salvador Tuy, a lawyer for the four accused, denied the charges. “We deny everything,” he told The FilAm.
In the report, Gonzaga said she was hired as a domestic helper by Philippine Consulate employee Emma Ruth Yulo in 2009. But instead of working for Yulo, she was passed on the McCarthy couple.
Gonzaga made the following charges, according to the Courthouse News Service report: “She claims she was forced to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for $1 an hour, under constant threat of being jailed and ‘deported to the Philippines in handcuffs.’
“She was brought to the United States by the defendants, and held in conditions of involuntary servitude and forced labor for nearly 11 months. During this period, the defendants held Ms. Gonzaga in confinement. They stripped her of her passport, restricted her communication with people outside the home, and forced her to clean the homes of the defendants and their friends.”
The report says Gonzaga “was required to clean the home of the Pelayo defendants. The McCarthy defendants shuttled her between Orangeburg and Queens — where the Pelayo defendants lived at the time — never allowing her to travel alone. Cleaning the Pelayo defendants’ home was typically a two-day job. The Pelayo defendants would pay Ms. Gonzaga approximately $20 for the two days of work.”
Gonzaga is seeking damages for involuntary servitude, forced labor, human trafficking, false imprisonment, trafficking into servitude, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wage and labor code violations, the report states. Balitang America is reporting the amount to be $300,000.
When contacted for comment, Bert Pelayo said the family will “vigorously debunk the allegations.” He suggested The FilAm speak to their lawyer.
“We deny everything,” said defense lawyer Tuy when contacted by The FilAm. He said some people resort to filing human trafficking charges as a way to apply for a T visa that would allow them to stay in the country legally.
He said Gonzaga’s passport was never withheld but has expired and had to be surrendered because the passport is an “official passport” — or one issued to a diplomatic dependent, in this case Gonzaga being in the employ of Yulo as originally planned.
Tuy said he has asked the court for an extension till February 22nd to file a response to Gonzaga’s December 18th court filing. He will be in Manila to attend a college reunion and will be returning on the 17th.
He added, “These (defendants) are all good people, they have many friends in the community.”
The FilAm finds curious why Yulo, who brought Gonzaga to the U.S., is not included in the charges. We are awaiting comments from Gonzaga’s lawyer Carletta Higginson of Jenner & Block.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Consulate issued the following statement to The FilAm:
“Based on the Philippine Consulate records, Ms. Gonzaga was the private staff of Ms. Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara, former Philippine Tourism Representative in New York. That the Tourism Office reported that Ms. Gonzaga left her employer, Ms. Yulo-Kitiyakara, in March 2011. This matter was reported to the relevant authorities as per standard operating procedure. The Consulate General has no knowledge of the matters alleged in the complaint of Ms. Gonzaga. Ms. Yulo-Kitiyakara retired from the Department of Tourism in November 2011.
“The Consulate General will respond appropriately to any request for assistance from any Filipino national who is a party to the case/complaint.
“The Consulate General reiterates that it continues to actively engage different concerned groups and individuals in raising awareness of labor-related issues.”
This story and its accompanying photo originally appeared in The FilAm.net, an online publication. Ms. Cristina DC Pastor, the author of the article, has granted permission to have it re-posted.