OKLAHOMA CITY – The ACLU and other groups have filed a federal lawsuit alleging Oklahoma business owners engaged in a human trafficking scheme that lured workers from the Philippines promising good wages but instead used them as cheap labor.
A complaint seeking class-action status filed Wednesday said three Filipino workers brought to Clinton, Oklahoma, about 80 miles west of Oklahoma City, paid thousands of dollars in recruiting fees to cover visa-related costs that should be incurred by sponsoring U.S. employers.
Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said the workers were promised enough money to live in Oklahoma and also enough money to send back to their families. This is a promise Henderson said fell short.
The lawsuit claims workers paid up to $300 a month to live in shared motel rooms, which is a direct contradiction of what Henderson said they were promised.
"Part of what they were promised, of course they were going to work for a person who owned hotels, so they were promised… 'Well, we’ll cover your room and board, you’ll stay essentially, you’ll live there, and that’s part of the steal.' Of course, that didn’t happen," Henderson said.
The lawsuit also alleges the workers were threatened with physical harm when they complained their compensation didn’t meet contractual obligations.
The problem of human trafficking is growing worldwide. According to the ALCU, there are more than 20 million victims globally.
"When you think about somebody who’s trafficking in people, commodifying human beings… this doesn’t necessarily refer to a war lord in sub-sahara Africa," Henderson said. "This can refer to somebody who sits next to you at a chamber commerce meeting in western Oklahoma."
NewsChannel 4 made multiple attempts to reach the Schumacher's, their businesses, and their attorney. We have not received an official comment yet.
Officials say the couple used to own Montana Mikes, but the restaurant has been under new ownership since 2013. The new owner is not involved in the lawsuit and does not face any allegations of human trafficking.