SANTA ANA, Calif. – Suitcase in hand, the 30-year-old domestic worker from Kenya managed to flag down a Southern California bus and tell a passenger she had been held against her will and believed she was a victim of human trafficking. It wasn't long before a Saudi princess was under arrest.
Meshael Alayban, who prosecutors said is one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, was expected to appear in an Orange County court for arraignment Thursday.
Alayban, 42, was charged Wednesday with human trafficking. She was arrested at an Irvine condominium that policed searched after talking to the Kenyan woman.
The woman told authorities she had been hired in Kenya in 2012 and taken to Saudi Arabia, where her passport was immediately taken. She said she was forced to work excessive hours, was paid less than promised and was not allowed to leave.
"This is not a contract dispute," District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in court during a bail hearing Wednesday. "This is holding someone captive against their will."
A judge set Alayban's bail at $5 million, ordered GPS monitoring and banned her from leaving the county without authorization.
Alayban did not appear in court Wednesday. Her attorney, Paul Meyer, said the case was a contractual dispute and argued his client shouldn't be assigned a ransom-like bail solely because she was rich. He said she had been traveling to the U.S. 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 for Alayban or set it at $20 million, saying it was unlikely any amount 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 said Alayban's family traveled to the U.S. in May with the victim and four other women from the Philippines.
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.
She was allowed to have a passport only long enough to enter the U.S., prosecutors said.
Once here, she was forced to tend to at least eight people in four apartments in the same Irvine complex, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and ironing, the office said.
The other four women left the condominium voluntarily with police once authorities arrived. They told police they were interested in being free, said Irvine police chief David Maggard Jr.
No charges have been filed related to those women, and police said there were no signs any of the workers had been physically abused.