A man accused of keeping a Filipino nanny in domestic servitude is the first person to be convicted of human trafficking in B.C.
A jury on Wednesday night found Franco Orr guilty of one count of human trafficking, one count of misrepresenting facts that could induce an error and one count of employing a foreign national illegally. The jury reached its verdict after two and a half days of deliberation.
The human trafficking charge alone carries a maximum term of life in prison, a maximum fine of $1-million fine, or both.
His wife and co-accused, Nicole Huen, was acquitted on charges of human trafficking and employing a foreign national illegally.
Nanny Leticia Sarmiento, 40, who previously cared for the couple's three young children in Hong Kong for one year without problem, had accused the couple of tricking her into coming to Canada in September, 2008, on the promise she would be paid more, become a permanent resident and the two would help bring her family over from the Philippines.
Instead, she said she was forced to live in oppressive conditions, working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, earning first $500 a month then $700 – the amounts agreed upon under her Hong Kong contract. She told the court she was prohibited from leaving the family homes – one in Vancouver and one in Richmond – and was only permitted to call home to the Philippines once a month.
Mr. Orr testified that he had told Ms. Sarmiento in Hong Kong to look for new work after he suffered a catastrophic business failure and could no longer afford to pay her. Instead, she pleaded to join the family on its temporary visit to Canada because she had previously been terminated and worried about her employment prospects, Mr. Orr claimed.
Nicholas Preovolos, the couple's lawyer, had told the court Ms. Sarmiento was treated like family in Vancouver, calling witnesses who told of a happy Ms. Sarmiento and producing photos of birthday celebrations for her. Phone records that showed more than100 phone calls to an unidentified number in the Philippines during the course of Ms. Sarmiento's employment were proof she was free to call home whenever she pleased, he said.
When she testified Mr. Orr kept her passport in his possession, Mr. Preovolos called to the stand two bank employees who said Ms. Sarmiento presented her passport when trying to open an account.
Outside B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday night, Mr. Preovolos said the couple is "devastated."
He said he was surprised and disappointed at the "odd verdict."
"The jury apparently believed a number of allegations Ms. Sarmiento made against Mr. Orr but didn't believe the allegations she made against Ms. Huen. So, it's odd and it's frustrating for them," he said.
"There were some serious credibility problems with the complainant that were put before everyone in court, so I struggle to understand how it is that the jury was able to find beyond a reasonable doubt that her evidence was reliable."
There may be grounds for appeal but that is premature at this point, Mr. Preovolos said.
A sentencing date has not yet been set. Mr. Preovolos said he will ask the judge for a sentence of house arrest.
"I don't think he's the kind of person who needs to be in jail. We accomplish nothing by putting someone like Mr. Orr in jail. He's not a danger to the public; he won't hurt anybody."