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Nanny denies defence's suggestions




Keith Fraser

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The Province

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A lawyer for a Vancouver couple accused of enslaving a Filipino nanny has suggested that the nanny was motivated by financial gain by filing a civil lawsuit against his clients.

Nicholas Preovolos, who is representing Oi Ling Nicole Huen and Franco Yiu Kwan Orr, noted in criminal court Friday that in October 2011, Leticia Sarmiento had filed suit against the couple seeking damages.

The suit, filed in B.C. Supreme Court, contains many of the allegations of domestic servitude now being heard in the criminal trial.

Under cross-examination of Sarmiento, Preovolos suggested it was a lawsuit that she has control over, but the nanny said other people helped her prepare the case.

"All I did was tell my story and they said they were going to help me claim damages," Sarmiento, 40, told a B.C. Supreme Court jury.

"So this is about money," said Pre-ovolos.

"I don't know," replied Sarmiento, a mother of three.

"You don't know the purpose of this lawsuit is to claim damages, payment of money?" asked Preovolos.

"All I know is I want to fight for my rights and to tell people the bad things that they did to me," said Sarmiento.

"I'm going to suggest to you that this case is as much about money, and I'm referring to your lawsuit now, as anything else?" said Preovolos.

"I don't agree with that," said Sarmiento.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Richard Goepel cautioned the jury not to examine the wording of the lawsuit too closely since it contains allegations that are unproven.

He said the limited purpose of document, which was filed as an exhibit, is to address the question of whether or not Sarmiento may have some personal motive to seek compensation.

The judge told the jury that they may ultimately accept Sarmiento's evidence at the criminal trial.

Huen and Orr have pleaded not guilty to human trafficking charges arising from an allegation they brought Sarmiento to Canada from Hong Kong under false pretences and kept her in domestic servitude for nearly two years.

Sarmiento, initially hired to care for the couple's three children in Hong Kong, alleges she was forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, without any days off, when she arrived in Vancouver in September 2008.

Court heard that her temporary visitor visa expired after six months and was never renewed.

Preovolos suggested that Sarmiento "knew full well" that she was illegally in Canada - a suggestion denied by her. She claimed she was paid $500 a month initially, rising to $700 a month. Preovolos suggested that the couple stopped paying her after the visa expired and that she continued on working for them for free - another suggestion denied by her.

"After March 2009, you were staying as a guest, as a family friend," said Preovolos.

"That is not true," said Sarmiento. "I was required to work from morning to midnight."

Preovolos suggested that Orr paid her $3,000 a few months before she called police in June 2013 to help her find employment elsewhere.

"That is a lie," she said. "That is not true."

The defence lawyer suggested that her "illegal" status in Canada created tensions in the household and the couple had "exhausted" their patience - allegations also denied by Sarmiento.

Preovolos also suggested Sarmiento had demanded $5,000 from Orr to acquire a fake diploma to make her eligible for Canada's Live-in Caregiver Program, a suggestion also denied.

kfraser@theprovince.com twitter.com/keithrfraser
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Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work, Home child care providers, and Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations

Content types

Documented cases of abuse

Geographical focuses

British Columbia and Philippines