Saudi Princess Arrested on Suspicion of Holding Maids Captive in Irvine

A 42-year-old mother of three is accused of stealing passports, work contracts of maids she hired to force them into labor

A Saudi princess was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of keeping slaves after police say a forced domestic servant from Kenya escaped from a three-story building in Irvine and alerted authorities.

Meshael Alayban, 42, was booked into jail in Orange County on Wednesday morning after police said they found four additional women allegedly being held against their wills at her building. Jail records listed Alayban's occupation as "princess."

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All five women were in good health and showed no indications of physical abuse, officials said. The Saudi princess allegedly stole their passports and work contracts, and forced them to work long hours for less than $10 a day, said Irvine police Lt. Julia Engen.

“The laws of our nation and California do not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labor or services,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement issued by the Irvine Police Department.

Alayban, a mother of three, may be the first person to be prosecuted in Orange County under a new law that increased penalties for human-trafficking offenses. She is one of six wives married to a grandson of the king of Saudi Arabia, authorities said.

The victim who allegedly escaped from the building was a 30-year-old maid from Kenya. The other four women were from the Philippines, Engen said.

Alayban first hired the Kenyan native in March 2012 to work at her home in Saudi Arabia, Engen said. They had signed a two-year contract guaranteeing the worker would be paid $1,600 a month.

In May 2013, Alayban and her family moved to Irvine with the victim, who cooked, cleaned, and washed laundry for eight people.

Authorities said the victim was working 16 hours a day for $220 a month – a fraction of what they agreed upon.

After searching Alayban’s residence, police discovered that five workers were all being held at the home on Gramercy Road just west of the 405 Freeway (map).

When police asked the captive women if they wanted to leave with them, they all said yes. Authorities were helping them find a place to stay.

Police were searching for the workers’ missing travel documents, which they believed were in a safety deposit box at a local bank.

The suspect owns multiple condominiums in the area, and she and her extended family reside there, Engen said.

Alayban was being held in Orange County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail. She was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday. 

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