Dressed in a jail-issued blue jumpsuit, a woman described by authorities as a Saudi royal princess appeared in an Orange County courtroom Thursday to face human trafficking charges that accuse her of forcing a Kenyan woman to work as a domestic servant.
Meshael Alayban, who stood in a gated section of the courtroom and had her hair pulled straight back, uttered "Yes your honor" several times during the brief appearance in the Santa Ana courtroom. An Arabic-speaking interpreter translated the proceedings for the woman.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas made a rare appearance in court to represent the prosecution. The woman's arraignment was continued until July 29.
Alayban was arrested early Wednesday by police at her Irvine home in a gated community where they say she forced the woman to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for only $220 a month. She was unable to leave because Alayban kept the woman's passport and documents, police say.
In court Thursday, the judge approved a protective order that would prohibit Alayban from contacting the alleged victim or people close to her. The servant has only been identified in court as Jane Doe.
"We're gravely concerned about her personal safety and that of her family," said attorney Steve Baric, who represents the Kenyan woman. "My client was a slave to this woman."
Rackauckas, who represented the prosecution in court, said he expects that Alayban will post bail quickly. She will have to wear a GPS monitoring unit and will not be allowed to leave Orange County without approval of the court.
The alleged victim came to the U.S. with Alayban and her family in May. Both had temporary visas, Rackauckas said. The alleged victim had previously lived with the family in Saudi Arabia for about one year.
The woman left the complex Tuesday, carrying a suitcase and a U.S. State Department pamphlet on human trafficking, officials said. The pamphlet had been given to her at a U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, where she was issued a travel visa.
A woman on the bus noticed she was upset and began talking to her, authorities said. That woman eventually helped her contact police.
In addition to the Kenyan woman, police said officers found four other workers being held under similar circumstances at Alayban's resident. Their passports had been locked up in a safe deposit box along with the alleged victim's, Rackauckas said. No charges have been filed in relation to the four other women but Rackauckas said further charges are possible.
Orange County prosecutors identified Alayban as one of the wives of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud. She could not be reached for comment, but in a statement to the Los Angeles Times, her attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said there was no physical abuse, no physical restraint and that the complaints were about hours worked and wages paid.
"We intend to fully investigate this matter, and expect that the truth will resolve it," he said.
Residents at the sprawling, luxury residential complex where Alayban lived described it as ethnically diverse and home to a large and wealthy Middle Eastern community. Some said that residents sometimes come in for summers and a valet at the Astoria towers – more of the sections in the Central Park West complex -- said there are a lot of Saudis and residents from Qatar living there.