Tag Archives: L’Amande Bakery

Emil Guillermo: Default judgment in L’Amande Bakery suit, as court awards $15 million in damages to 11 former workers. Filipino owners abandoned suit and are believed to be in the Philippines.

The 11 visa workers have won a default judgment worth more than $15 million  against the prominent Filipino family that brought them to the U.S.

Read the story here.

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Bakery owners have not responded to request for a comment.

 

Emil Guillermo: L’Amande Bakery case–Filipino workers’ claims jump to more than $15 million.

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The case involving Analiza Moitinho de Almeida, her husband Goncalo, and her powerful father Juan B. Santos, the head of the Social Security System in the Philippines got more interesting late last week.

The court docs were filed last Friday in Los Angeles that ups the total damages and costs sought by workers to $15.2 million.

The court is presuming the bakery owner defendants, the Almeidas, have fled the country.   As a consequence, the court directed the plaintiffs to file for a default judgment.

Sources tell me that Almeidas have completed the sale of  their home in L.A. worth more than a million dollars this month.

Are they hiding assets? The Almeidas say no.

It’s unclear, however, if the profits are totally out of reach of the court if a judgment is awarded to  the 11 former employees suing the Almeidas

My story here in the Philippines’ top daily.

 

Emil Guillermo: L’Amande bakery owners flee country, say to lawyers they won’t defend suit, then say to me they will.

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If you’ve been following my reporting on the  civil lawsuit alleging trafficking and labor violations against the L’Amande bakeries, owned by the scion of one of the Philippines elite families, then you’ll want to see the new twists in the case.
The lawyers of bakery owner Ana Moitinho de Almeida have told the lawyers for the 11 former workers suing Almeida, that the owners have fled the country and would no longer be defending the suit.

But this is inconsistent with what Ms.Almeida communicated to me.

Is it just a ploy?   This comes after the plaintiffs failed to attach the Almeidas’ assets, which have been re-positioned to seemingly be out of reach of the court.  The first court date had been set for late September.

See my story in the Philippine Inquirer here.

Emil Guillermo: Owner of closed Filipino bakeries in LA speaks about the shutdown, and on the lawsuit that has rocked her business and family life.

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In a direct communication with Emil Guillermo Media, Ana Moitinho de Almeida,the daughter of Juan B. Santos, and the co-owner with her husband Gonzalo Moitinho de Almeida of two recently closed California bakeries, admitted that millions of their joint assets were sold recently—not to protect or hide assets—but to fund their expensive legal battle against 11 former employees.

The Almeidas were socked this spring with a $1 million dollar civil suit alleging labor trafficking, labor rules violations, and immigration violations at their L’Amande bakeries in Beverly Hills and Torrance.

But in the last few months, the Almeidas have been liquidating and re-positioning assets, including their bakeries,real estate investments, and Los Angeles area home.

“We needed to find funding somewhere,” Almeida answered in response to my questions via e-mail. “Closure of the bakeries? How can a business survive when …charges, augmented by aggressive press, has descended without mercy, or fair investigation?”

It is the first time the Almeidas have made direct public comments on their asset situation.

Almeida insisted it wasn’t to hide or keep money from the suit, but an attempt to fight what she calls are unfair charges being made by E-2 visa workers whom she sponsored in an “investor visa program.”

Almeida has been posting pictures of her former employees showing that the workers’ allegations are trumped up charges and don’t reflect how they were being treated while working for the Almeida bakeries.

When I asked her why she has been quiet on the matter, she said: “How could I not have declined at that time when the mother load of a lawsuit just hit us? We are a small bakery. We did not have lawyers standing by to help us.”

I’ll have more from Almeida. In the meantime, here’s my  piece on the Almeida’s sale of assets, as I first reported  in the Philippine Inquirer, Manila’s top daily.

See my latest columns on the AALDEF blog.

Emil Guillermo: Sensitive Filipinos criticize my reporting on the Beverly Hills Bakery lawsuit filed by 11 employees against owner Analiza Moitinho de Almeida.

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Just saw the hit piece another Filipino columnist wrote criticizing my reporting on the lawsuit against Beverly Hills Bakery owner, Ana Moitinho de Almeida, her husband, Goncarlo, and their corporate entities.

Just want to point out, that my reporting included three of the principals  involved, the people who filed the suit and their stories. I didn’t pass judgment. That’s what the courts are for.

But the critic puts much weight on the fact that these former employees who are suing are much closer to the family. So that puts them in a different class? Or makes them easier to manipulate and to be taken advantage of?

The critic also makes it sound like I made up the stories.

It’s all public record in the lawsuit. I just humanized the story by actually reaching out to talk to real people–on both sides.

The Moitinho de Almeidas were contacted and declined an interview.

The critic seems to make a lot about these former employees  gambling and going on trips in the U.S., as if that alone proves anything besides their personal preferences. They weren’t free to leave the country or their jobs  by their visa, and they did talk about real threats to their families back home.

But the bottom line seems to be the critic’s concern that I invoked the name of Juan B. Santos, the head of the Social Security System in the Philippines, and the former head of Nestle in the Philippines.

He’s the father of Ana, the baker. He also had some financial involvement with the bakeries of his daughter. No charges are against him, but the actions of his daughter, and their relationship is newsworthy.

If Ana is as innocent as the critic claims, what difference does it make to mention Santos, who was one  of the Hyatt 10 who pressed for honest government during the Arroyo era.

We know what happened in the Arroyo era. It was Marcos Lite.  So Santos should be a hero, somewhat.

I can’t fault the critic for wanting to defend his friend.  But my reporting is sound. Other U.S. news organizations reported the story. The facts are all there. If they omitted Santos’ name it’s because they are U.S. based media and not Philippine-based as was my original column for Inquirer.net.

I took an extra step by talking to the employees who sued, who told me their stories. But I also gave the Moitinho de Almeidas a chance to respond.

The subsequent story is even more telling, that the Moitinho de Almeidas are in a second legal battle about the bakery with their own relatives. The relatives say its intimidation. The Moitinho de Almeidas once again declined to comment.

I reported this last week, based on legal docs that  are public record. But my offer stands: I would love to tell the  Moitinho de Almeida’s story objectively and without the bias shown by my critic.

My interests are only in the truth.

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Emil Guillermo: My interviews with three immigrant workers suing Filipino bakery owners in Los Angeles for visa fraud, labor exploitation

anamoitinho_edited THESE ARE NOT THE WORKERS.  This is a picture of Analiza Moitinho de Almeida, the daughter of a powerful and wealthy Filipino government official,  seen here with her husband, Goncalo.

The two met in Switzerland, where Ana had attended boarding school, then  hotel school.

What they learned they put to use in Manila, serving up fancy French delicacies, and then in California.

But what of their ethics?  In the U.S. dollar world,  some Filipino workers claim the couple’s ethics were still operating in the peso world.

The couple and their California corporations are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by 11 Filipino immigrant workers in Los Angeles.

The plaintiffs, all poor Filipinos, claim they were lured to the U.S. under false pretenses in an investor visa fraud scheme concocted by the Almeidas.

The workers are asking for back pay, overtime, penalties and damage that could be in excess of $1 million dollars.

The Almeidas have not returned my phone calls. But I was able to talk to three of the workers who are plaintiffs in the case.

My original column on the workers was published in the online version of the Manila-based Philippine Inquirer.

I have re-posted my opinion/commentary column here:

IN CIVIL LAWSUIT, 11 FILIPINO NATIONALS IN CALIFORNIA ALLEGE SCION OF PROMINENT FILIPINO ENGAGED IN FRAUDULENT IMMIGRATION SCHEME By Emil Guillermo

On the phone, the woman was so scared for herself and her family in the Philippines, she will only go by the name “Nora.”

In 2011, she was working at the Le Coeur de France bakery in Manila when she was approached by the former owner, Analiza Moitinho de Almeida, who had moved to the U.S. Almeida, the daughter of Philippine Social Security chair Juan B. Santos, was starting a new bakery in Los Angeles—L’Amande Bakery–and asked Nora to come work for her.

Nora said Ana offered $2,000 and an E2 visa. It’s a temporary visa, good for five years for skilled workers to America. Ana took care of everything for Nora and ten others. She is alleged to have made up some things in the paperwork to get the visas.

An E-2 visa is for skilled workers. But when Nora and the others arrived, they were put to work as household domestics, doing dishes, cleaning, cooking and yardwork for Almeida.

On top of that, she said they did other manual labor like cleaning of Almeida’s rental properties.

Oh, and the pay? Not $2,000 a month. Try $360 a month, according to Nora and the other workers.  About the same amount that the workers got if they stayed put in their old jobs in Manila. But this was Los Angeles not Metro Manila.

Never mind. They said they stayed together in the Almeida’s laundry room, sleeping on the floor.

Did they even have a banig?

“Nora” began crying when I talked to her and  she recounted her tale. I asked her if she felt like a “slave”?

Opo,” she said. She wasn’t allowed to leave, and when she finally brought up the pay discrepancy she was threatened by Almeida.

She said she and the others were told they would have to repay an $11,000 debt for being brought to America.

Debt of $11,000?

That’s not slavery. That sounds more like “indentured servitude.”

Nora, 47, said she felt trapped. Like many of the others, she had had a working relationship with Ana and had known her for a dozen years or more. They trusted her on the offer to come to America. They didn’t think it was a scheme for cheap labor.

For Nora, it was a dream opportunity—a way to send dollars back to the peso world, to help her family mired in poverty. But she didn’t know anything about the paperwork, about the visa. Ana had taken care of all that, she said.  And when the suggestion came up to leave, Nora said  Ana threatened them.

“I’m very afraid for my family,” Nora said. She said she feared Ana wouldn’t hesitate to use any connections back home.

Already there have been knocks on some of doors of family members, she said. “I regret that I joined Ana here,” Nora said tearfully. “If I stayed, I would not have endangered my family.”

Nora was so fearful she would not use her name. But at least she talked to me.

Two others did as well. But they had a sense of justice that allowed them a bit more courage.

They’re using their real names.

Louise Luis, 40, and left her partner and son Mat in Quezon City when Ana offered her a job doing logistics for the new bakery in America. She sent home most of her money to the Philippines to provide a better life for her son. But she paid a price. She said she was overworked, and underpaid. And when she confronted Ana about her treatment, Louise said Ana scolded her like she was an ungrateful infant.

Louise Luis

“I thought of leaving a lot of times,” Louise told me. But Ana being from a prominent family was intimidating to her.

“I know Ana is wealthy and very powerful in the Philippines. Her father is wealthy and powerful and influential…And if you know the Philippines…when you’re wealthy and you know some people, you have body guards.. You can do things to people who don’t have money.”

That was the peso mentality that ruled and dominated the Filipino workers brought over by Analiza Moitinho de Almeida.

Ana’s position as a member of the Filipino elite, the daughter of the former chair of Nestle Philippines, and the current chair of the Social Security system in the Philippines, had as much to do with her ability to rule over the workers as anything else, according to the immigrant plaintiffs.

Even in America.

Another worker. Romar Cunanan, 33, felt similarly. He said the pressure of having an $11,000 payment hanging over his head, as well as the fear of harm to his family in the Philippines was too much to bear. But he also felt strange working for Almeida once the bakery opened.

The L’Amande bakeries in Beverly Hills and Torrance weren’t  “point-point joints.” They didn’t serve  halo-halo or Ube rice cakes and bibingka. They were fancy French places  with omelets in the morning and Croque Monsieur sandwiches in the afternoon.

The Filipinos were told to work in the back and stay there. The restaurants in Beverly Hills and Torrance were for whites, they were told. They were told not to speak Tagalog.

It practically made Romar feel sub-human. Definitely “less than.” And this was on top of getting a fraction of the $2,000 a month he was promised.

What made him feel better was his ability  to help his family.

Whatever he made, he sent the lion’s share back to his wife and two sons. He told me leaving them behind remains “the hardest decision he has made in his entire life.”

And now like the others, he is facing a legal battle and fears of retaliation. A member of the legal team said there are provisions that might allow for the employees to get new T visas. They are for those victimized by traffickers.

The legal complaint states: “The workers bring this action against Defendants for labor trafficking, racketeering violations, labor law violations, unfair competition, employment discrimination and retaliation, unfair immigration-related practices, and common law claims.”

A new T Visa would allow the workers the ability to live and bring their endangered families from the Philippines to America. That wasn’t in the plans at first. It is now.

Louise says once the bakery opened, they got the $2,000 they were promised, but it didn’t add up after all the extra hours at the bakery and at the Almeida home.

“We worked 14 hours a day without overtime pay, breaks, and no day off, “Louise said.

California’s department of labor did conduct an investigation. There still may be a criminal complaint, but Louise and the others learned they also had rights.

They spoke up against Ana and were fired. At that point, they decided to contact Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Los Angeles. It was time to fight.

“I want justice for what happened to me,” Louise said. “I still want to pursue my dream, save (money) and be with my family. …But I have to make this right. I need justice. I fear, but I know I’m doing this for a good cause—for Ana to stop what she’s doing… I hope this thing that happened to me won’t happen to anyone.”

She hopes the “T” visa application comes through so she can start working.

But she’s not going to stop talking. It’s different for Ana Moitinho de Almeida and her husband Goncalo.

I made several calls to them once the lawsuit was announced.

The person who answered at the bakery said reporters were “vultures,” and hung up.

A court will decide who the vultures are.

(My  original Philippine Inquirer column is here).

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Emil Guillermo: Crimes by Filipinos against Filipinos in the US? 11 E2 visa holders allege exploitation, fraud by L’Amande Bakery in Los Angeles owned by Analiza Moitinho de Almeida and her husband, Goncalo. (Find lawsuit here).

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The civil suit filed in Los Angles cites a long list of complaints ranging from human trafficking, racketeering, discrimination, and  retaliation to wage and labor violations.  It asks specifically for a million dollars in unpaid wages, overtime, penalties and damages.

The 11 plaintiffs are all poor Filipino workers who  were allegedly lured to America  by the bakery owner,  a previous employer in the Philippines.  They trusted her when they were promised  an E2 Visa and $2,000 a month to leave their families and come to America.

But that’s not what they got when they arrived in Los Angeles.

One woman told me she felt like a “slave,” doing forced manual labor. It wasn’t what she signed up for. And when the workers threatened to leave, the powerful bakery owner allegedly threatened the workers and their families in the Philippines. The significance here is that the bakery owner is the daughter of a Philippine official, Juan B. Santos, who is chair of the Social Security Commission, and a wealthy former CEO of Nestle.

I’ll have much more in a later post.

I talked to several workers and I hope to talk to the bakery owners.

(Suit filed by attorneys at  Latham/Watkins in Los Angeles and the Asian American Advancing Justice-Los Angeles).
The complaint is here:  20150318 Complaint-filed
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