By TONY RIZZO - McClatchy Newspapers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A representative of Taiwan working in Kansas City was charged Thursday with violating federal law in her hiring of a Filipina housekeeper who allegedly was kept in virtual isolation inside the official's Leawood, Kan., home.
Federal prosecutors in Kansas City say that the defendant is believed to be the first foreign representative to face this charge in the United States.
Authorities arrested Hsien-Hsien Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, at her office Thursday afternoon. Click here to find out more!
She made her first appearance before a magistrate judge later Thursday and was ordered to remain in custody pending a federal detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday in Kansas City.
Court records do not list an attorney for Liu.
The charge alleges that Liu, 64, who is also known as Jacqueline, forced the housekeeper to work long hours and paid her far less than promised in her employment contract.
Liu also allegedly took the woman's visa and passport, and threatened her with deportation if she did not do as she was told.
"Liu told her she was not to leave the house without permission and that she would be working six days a week at a minimum," according to an FBI affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint.
Lui allegedly required the woman, identified in court documents by the initials F.V., to work 16 to 18 hours a day for $400 to $450 a month.
"Liu monitored F.V. from video surveillance cameras she had installed inside her residence," according to the court documents.
The Filipina woman was living in the Philippines last November when recruited for the housekeeping job. In order for her to obtain a visa, she and Liu signed an employment contract that was processed through the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Under terms of the two-year contract, the woman was to be paid $1,240 each month for a 40-hour work week. She was supposed to be paid overtime for work beyond that.
The woman arrived in Kansas City in March.
In late July, she met another Filipino at a grocery store where Liu had driven her to buy groceries.
"F.V. told him that she needed his help, that she was trapped, and being underpaid and mistreated. F.V. seemed scared and stressed," the man later reported to the FBI.
The man subsequently talked to F.V. at church, but she could no longer attend services when Liu began requiring her to work on Sundays, according to the court documents.
In August, he helped her to leave Liu's house.
During their investigation, FBI agents spoke with other witnesses who corroborated F.V.'s story, the records said. The witnesses relayed that Liu had allegedly done the same thing with a prior housekeeper, according to the court documents.
The charge of fraud in foreign labor contracting carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in federal prison.
Prosecutors said that while there have been previous prosecutions of foreign representatives for mistreating domestic workers, Liu is accused of violating the law that covers the recruitment of foreign workers and their transport into the United States on fraudulent terms.
In their motion seeking to have Liu held without bond pending trial, federal prosecutors allege that she made arrangements to leave the United States "immediately" once she became aware of a possible federal investigation.
Prosecutors also alleged that after F.V. escaped, Liu made efforts to find her and have her deported.
"The offense involved threats, fraud and coercion against the victim," prosecutors stated in their detention motion.
They noted that F.V. is currently in a protected location.
The economic and cultural office where Liu served as director general is responsible for maintaining unofficial relations between the people of the United States and Taiwan, according to prosecutors. It generally would be the equivalent of foreign government consulate, but Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign state by the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The Kansas City office is overseen by the Washington-based Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States. Officials there did not respond to a telephone request for comment on the charge against Liu.