CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) - Eleven Filipina nurses say recruitment agencies lured them to America with false promises of salary, benefit and housing, and had them arrested on bogus charges when they refused to work under the abusive conditions.
The nurses say Sentosa Care, a recruitment agency, manipulated the Suffolk County Court System with help from District Attorney Thomas Spotta III to force them into "indentured servitude."
The United States faces a massive shortage of nurses and the Philippines is a prime recruiting ground. To distinguish themselves from the "myriad" other agencies operating in the Philippines, Sentosa promised their nurses would be "direct hire" rather than "agency" nurses, according to the federal complaint.
The nurses say they were promised 8-hour shifts, extra pay for night work, medical and dental benefits, malpractice insurance, two months of housing, and competitive salary.
The agency directed to them to sign 3-year contracts with the nursing home Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, which denied them insurance, made them work overtime and denied them time off and vacation, the nurses say.
They were housed by cramming eight nurses into two-bedroom apartments, the nurses say.
Despite Avalon's repeated breaches of contract, it threatened fine them $25,000, plus $50,000 in punitive damages, if the nurses resigned, they say.
They sought help from the Philippines Consulate, which referred them to an attorney who told them they were not bound to the contact because their employers had breached it. The nurses say that when they resigned in April 2006, defendant Brent Philipson, threatened to have them "prosecuted, deported, faced with license revocation and subjected to a civil suit." Philipson is a principal of co-defendants Sentosa, Avalon Gardens and Prompt Nursing Employment, according to the complaint.
The agents filed a civil suit that month in Nassau County Supreme Court for an injunction preventing the nurses from talking about their dismissal, but the judge dismissed the motion in June.
"In September 2006, the State Education Department sent an e-mail to [defendant] Vinluan stating that the nurse plaintiffs had been fully exonerated of any wrongdoing," the lawsuit says.
The nurses say that 3 weeks after they resigned, a person allegedly acting on Avalon's behalf called the Suffolk Police Department to file a complaint, but the police did not take action because "in their opinion, no crime had been committed."
They claim that Sentosa's attorney then set up a meeting between the agency and District Attorney Spotta, who told the nurses that they were not being targeted, ignored the information exonerating them of criminal negligence and secretly submitted a fraudulent investigation to a Grand Jury.
The resulting indictment charged the nurses with conspiracy, solicitation, endangering the welfare of a child, and endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person, according to the complaint.
On Jan. 13, 2009, the Appellate Division of Suffolk County Supreme Court barred Sentosa from prosecuting the indictment and found "the greatest risk created by the resignation of these nurses was to the financial health of Sentosa."
The nurses sued Spotta, Assistant DA Leonard Lato, Suffolk County, Sentosa Care LLC, Avalon Gardens, Prompt Nursing Employment Agency LLC, Francris (sic) Luyun, Bent Philipson, Berish Rubinstein, Susan O'Connor, and Nancy Fitzgerald.
They are represented by James Druker with Kase & Druker of Mineola, N.Y.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.