A South Florida couple is on trial this week for using a temp agency as a front to enslave at least 39 Filipino workers in the service industry. And most of these workers were not slinging hash at backwater diners and rest stops. They were waiting on the rich and famous who frequent the country clubs of Boca Raton and Miami. Slavery at a country club? As sure as you can say "pass the Grey Poupon." Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr. ran a temporary staffing agency that promised foreign workers the chance to come work in the U.S. For a fee, Manuel and Baldonado would supposedly provide housing, job placement, and transportation for the workers. But for at least 39 men and women who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines for jobs, all Manuel and Baldonado provided was slavery.
Anywhere between 20 and 40 workers shared the cramped, 3-bedroom house, meaning most of them slept on the floor and in the garage. Their meals consisted of chicken innards and rotten vegetables. The workers were frequently woken in the middle of the night and quizzed on service industry knowledge, like drink recipes. During the course of their captivity, one worker broke his wrist and another began coughing up blood. Neither was allowed to see a doctor. And anyone who complained was threatened with deportation.
But perhaps the most stunning aspect of this case is where the victim were being forced to work -- in upscale country clubs around Boca Raton and Miami. We often imagine people who are being enslaved and abused as being locked in dingy, abandoned warehouses or forced to clean low-end motels. But these men and women were serving drinks and cleaning up after the wealthy and well-connected of South Florida. In fact, the Boca Wood Country Club Association is named in a lawsuit on this same case, claiming that they knew the staff being provided to them were slaves.
The fact is that modern-day slavery shows up everywhere. Even on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."