SANTA ANA, Calif. — A Saudi princess charged with human trafficking had her arraignment delayed Monday after she failed to show up for the Southern California hearing, leaving the judge perturbed and leading her attorneys to promise that she would appear at a later date.
Meshael Alayban's scheduled arraignment was pushed back to Sept. 20.
"I am concerned the defendant is not here," Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald G. Johnston said, but he noted there was no court order for her to appear.
Defense attorneys Paul S. Meyer and Jennifer L. Keller said the princess is complying with all court orders.
Alayban is charged with one count of human trafficking and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted. She is free on $5 million bail but is barred from leaving Orange County without prior authorization.
Her lawyers did not indicate Alayban's location.
Alayban, 42, was arrested July 9 after a Kenyan woman carrying a suitcase flagged down a bus and told a passenger she believed she was a human trafficking victim. The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the Irvine condominium where Alayban and her family were staying, authorities said.
Four other women left the home with police and said they were interested in being free, authorities said, but no criminal charges have been filed in connection with their circumstances.
The 30-year-old Kenyan woman told authorities she was hired in 2012 and her passport was taken from her on arrival in Saudi Arabia. In May, she was brought to the U.S. and given her passport only to pass through customs, the district attorney's office said.
The woman 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 contend.
She tended at least eight people in four apartments in the same Irvine complex, prosecutors claim.
Outside court on Monday, Alayban's attorneys read a statement to the media contending that the women were well-treated.
"The nannies traveled to the U.S. on $10,000 first-class tickets, along with the family," the statement said. "These women had cellphones, Internet, Facebook, and the family even bought cable (TV) in their native language for them. They enjoyed full use of the spa, gym and pool and were often dropped off to shop alone at neighborhood malls, all paid for by the family."
The statement didn't address the issue of whether the women retained their passports and Meyer and Keller declined to answer further questions.
Alayban's lawyers have portrayed the issue as a disagreement over work hours but District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has referred to it as forced labor and likened it to slavery.
"This is not a contract dispute," Rackauckas said at an earlier bail hearing. "This is holding someone captive against their will."
The Saudi royal family is extensive, with thousands of princes and princesses, including some who have run into trouble with the law.
In 2002, Saudi princess Buniah al-Saud, who was accused of pushing her maid down a flight of stairs, entered a no-contest plea in Florida and was fined $1,000. In 1995, another Saudi princess, Maha Al-Sudairi, allegedly beat a servant in front of sheriff's deputies providing off-duty security. No charges were ever filed.
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