A woman identified as a Saudi Arabian princess has been accused of holding a domestic servant against her will at her condominium in Irvine, California.
Meshael Alayban, 42, faces one felony count of human trafficking. Court details released Thursday say Alayban is one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud.
Alayban appeared in an Orange County court in Santa Ana on Thursday, and the judge continued the arraignment until July 29. In the courtroom, Alayban was kept inside a cage-like holding space and spoke with her attorney through the wire webbing.
Alayban is being held in the Orange County jail in lieu of $5 million bail. She faces a maximum sentence of 12 years if convicted.
Police say the servant is a 30-year-old woman, originally from Kenya, who managed to escape Tuesday and flag down a bus. A passenger helped her contact the Irvine Police Department.
Investigators say the alleged victim had contracted to work with Alayban’s family in Saudi Arabia in March 2012. Her salary was set at $1,600 a month for working eight hours a day, five days a week. But once she arrived in Saudi Arabia, the servant says, her passport was taken from her. She also says she was paid only $220 a month and forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Alayban’s attorney, Paul S. Meyer, indicated in a statement, however, that the incident is essentially a labor dispute.
Meyer told the court during the bail hearing that “the police report confirms that there was no physical abuse, no physical restraint, and that the complaints were about hours worked and wages paid,” according to his statement.
“We intend to fully investigate all facts, and expect that the truth will resolve this matter,” Meyer’s statement said.
Police say Alayban’s family traveled to the United States in May with the alleged victim and four women from the Philippines under similar contracts.
Armed with a search warrant, Irvine detectives and immigration and homeland security agents later found the four other women in the condominium, a news release from police and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office says. Police say all five women are in good health, and at this time, there are no indications of physical abuse.
This is the first forced labor human trafficking case to be prosecuted in Orange County under California’s Proposition 35, which passed in November and increased the penalty for human trafficking.