Providence, RI - A military officer from the United Arab Emirates accused of keeping an unpaid servant while attending the Naval War College in Rhode Island has been arrested by federal officials after he boarded an international flight in New York City.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali at Kennedy Airport late Monday night after he and his family boarded a nonstop flight to their home country, said Jim Martin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Rhode Island. Al-Ali was held overnight in New York.
The naval officer pleaded not guilty last week to charges he lured a Filipino servant to the United States, then failed to pay her and kept her confined in his house.
A federal judge in New York ordered that Al-Ali appear in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island on Wednesday and released him, on $100,000 unsecured bond, into the custody of three countrymen, including a diplomatic attache and another colonel in the Emirati military, Martin said. The judge ordered Al-Ali equipped with a tracking device, he said.
Al-Ali's wife and five children got off the plane when he was detained, but it's unclear what they did after that, Martin said.
Al-Ali's name was flagged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which caught the attention of an ICE agent, according to the order of removal to Rhode Island issued Tuesday. The order says authorities in New York received an arrest warrant from a judge in Rhode Island charging that Al-Ali had violated the terms of his pre-trial release.
Prosecutors say Al-Ali hired a Filipino woman to work for him as a housemaid, but didn't pay her as promised, took away her passport, forced her to work seven days a week -- often until midnight -- and refused to let her leave the family's East Greenwich house alone or talk to anybody outside his family. The woman ultimately escaped and now is in hiding, according to prosecutors.
Authorities have not identified the Filipino woman, but a lawsuit brought against Al-Ali and his wife on the woman's behalf Tuesday identifies her as Elizabeth Cabitla Ballesteros. The lawsuit - brought by lawyers with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights group - alleges human-trafficking violations.
A lawyer for Ballesteros, Ivy O. Suriyopas, says the woman is in her 30s. Ballesteros has been cooperating with authorities since her escape last October and is in a safe place, Suriyopas said, though she declined to elaborate further on her client's whereabouts.
The lawsuit, which seeks unpaid wages and damages, alleges that Ballesteros was contracted to care for Al-Ali's youngest child. It claims Al-Ali didn't pay Ballesteros, but instead sent occasional payments -- totalling less than $410 over the course of 2 1/2 months -- to her family in the Philippines.
Al-Ali's attorneys did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
A magistrate judge ordered the naval officer released after his arraignment last week and restricted his travel to Rhode Island, except for trips tied to his studies at the war college, where Al-Ali has been studying since last summer. His program ends on June 10, and a judge is set to decide on how to handle the case after Al-Ali's visa expires. The war college is a Navy-run institution that provides graduate-level education to U.S. and foreign military services.
The outcome of the case against Al-Ali will determine whether he can remain a student at the war college, said Cmdr. Carla McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the college.