Indonesian laborers were recruited in their homeland and sold to rich Southern Californians who confiscated the aliens' documents and held them as virtual slaves, federal prosecutors charged in an affidavit.
U.S. Magistrate James Penne granted prosecutors' request to designate 26 Indonesians as material witnesses to testify before the grand jury investigating charges they were held under involuntary servitude. He ordered each alien held on $10,000 bail.
The affidavit filed by the Justice Department did not include the names of people suspected of operating the scheme.
One man who employed nine of the aliens at his electronics firm told the Los Angeles Times he provided them with room and board and paid them $350 a month, and another told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner: "They get free cars, and they don't even pay for gas. They have free rooms and they use the telephones for free. They have vacations, and they go to Las Vegas. They live better than me, and they live better than you. They live like kings. They are not slaves."
Omer Sewell of the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it is not unusual for illegal aliens, particularly Mexicans, to be smuggled into the country and sold to employers. "This is a little different in that it involves international travel by air and fraudulent visas are being obtained from an American embassy abroad," Sewell said.