The story was shocking when it erupted: A Saudi princess living in luxury in Irvine suspected of keeping a Kenyan woman as a modern day slave.
When Meshael Alayban, 42, was accused in July of forcing an employee to work long hours for little pay, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas cited the Emancipation Proclamation and said he was shocked to see such a case in California.
On Friday, he conceded “the evidence does not support the charges.”
He asked the judge to toss out the felony count of human trafficking against Alayban, who had been free on $5-million bail.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gerald G. Johnston agreed to the request and gave Alayban her passport, which had been held by the court.
The princess smiled faintly and nodded. She left the court without making any comments.
Alayban’s attorneys said they sent investigators around the world to gather evidence of their client’s innocence. They concluded the allegations were based on lies and were part of a scam by the employee to gain legal status in the U.S., said Jennifer L. Keller, one of Alayban’s attorneys.
Keller said Irvine police jumped the gun on the case and failed to do a thorough investigation.
She pointed to one of the allegations -- that the alleged victim’s passport was taken from her and she was not free to leave.
“If they had interviewed even one neighbor, the neighbor would have said, ‘We’ve seen them coming and going all the time,’” she said.
Irvine Police Chief David Maggard declined, through a spokesman, to be interviewed.
In a written statement, he said, “We investigated this case thoroughly and stand by the work of our detectives. We followed the law, and adhered to our high ethical standards, as we always do.
“We support and respect the decision made by the district attorney to dismiss these charges,” the chief said in the statement.
Rackauckas said he did not believe the alleged victim had intentionally lied.
“She didn’t test the idea that she couldn’t leave,” he said. “We had a lot of allegations and reason to believe they were true.”
Police moved quickly to arrest Alayban because they feared she would leave the country, he said.
But as the investigation proceeded, prosecutors apparently realized their case was falling apart.
In fact, several things turned out not to be true, including the original terms of the alleged victim’s employment and an allegation that she did not receive medical care.
Keller and Paul S. Meyer, another of Alayban’s attorneys, said they had records showing that the alleged victim, who has not been named, was provided with medical exams and follow-ups, all of which were paid for by the family.
Prosecutors said an original contract signed in Kenya had misled the victim, but that also turned out not to be the case, the attorneys said.
“No one was overworked or held against her will,” Keller and Meyer said in a written statement.
The household employees were given access to pools, parks, a spa and gym. They had drivers who took them shopping and for entertainment, they said.
Keller and Meyer declined to say exactly how much the alleged victim was paid but said that her compensation, along with that of three other employees from the Philippines, “included free lodging, medical care, food, expense money, paid deluxe air transportation and extended paid vacations each year.
“The prince and princess also paid for medical care and education for children and relatives of the women,” the defense attorneys said.
In all, the Saudi couple -- who had one child -- had five household workers and nurses and three drivers, the defense lawyers said.
For the Record, 1:45 p.m. PDT Sept. 20: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Meshael Alayban was free on $1-million bail. She was free on $5-million bail.